A Guide to Effective Instagram Marketing For Restaurants

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With 500 million active daily users, Instagram is the go-to platform for the food industry. But, how do you use Instagram to market your restaurant? Here’s a guide to getting on the ‘Gram – and getting it right with planning, posting, optimizing, and advertising.

Instagram has come a long way since its inception in 2010. The image-based social network now has a revenue of approximately $6.84 billion, which, in 2019, included $20 billion in ad revenue. 

The restaurant and food industry is one of the many to take advantage of the marketing opportunities Instagram offers.  Restaurants across the globe now use Instagram to advertise their wares and, many even create bespoke dishes which are designed specifically to be shown off on the platform. There are many tactics to employ to develop your grow your restaurant’s Instagram presence

With 500 million active daily users, it’s no wonder Instagram rapidly became the go-to platform for the food industry. But, how do you use Instagram to market your restaurant? Here’s a guide to getting on the ‘Gram – and getting it right!

Plan Ahead

To start out with any kind of social media for business, planning is key. A business account requires more structure than a personal one.  Set aside time each week to plan and write posts, and to schedule them.  

Take into account the day of the week, and match to the tone of your post. For example, Monday blues and Friday celebrations. Although it may take you an hour or two to put this all together, the effort will be worth it. You can always amend or add posts should you need to. 

High Days and Holidays

If you run a special offer for a major event or national holiday, advertise it on Instagram well in advance.  

People tend not to leave their celebrations for Christmas, Easter, and Valentine’s Day to chance. Post about your offer at least two or three weeks before the happy day.  

In addition to major holidays, offer deals for the more obscure celebrations llike National Friendship Day or, even,  National Bubblewrap Appreciation Day (January 27th, in case you were wondering).  

People love a celebration, and usually don’t need to be persuaded to make an event of it!

Play Tag

Ever since Chris Messina’s #barcamp hashtag turned up on social media in 2007, hashtags have been big business for marketing. If you’re not yet using one for your restaurant, it’s time to start. Decide on a memorable and reasonably short hashtag.  

A great hashtag gives your restaurant credibility. But, more importantly, it’s a sneaky way to get your customers to market for you. How? Use your hashtag on all marketing materials as well as on your menu and receipts.  

Encourage customers to ‘tag’ your restaurant in their Instagram posts. Offer an incentive such as a discount, free portion of fries, etc. Then, sit back and let them do the rest. People are likely to share when they receive a benefit in return.

Make your Restaurant ‘Grammable

If you plan to make Instagram your main platform for marketing, make sure your business is up to snuff.  Ensure consistency throughout your branding. This includes your logo, your restaurant’s decor, and your social media content.  

When it comes to the ‘Gram, earn bonus points if you add a ‘standout’ feature. This would be something at your restaurant that begs people to take photographs.  

A great example is the Coppa Club chain in London that periodically offers outdoor seating in igloos and pods. Another great option is to create a couple signature dishes with great presentation. People love to photograph artistic-looking dishes. There are many great restaurants on Instagram that you can learn from.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Instagram users currently share 95 million photographs and videos every day. Thus, there’s a fair bit of competition.  To stand out, it’s best to hire a professional photographer to take pictures of your restaurant and dishes.  

You can, of course, snap your own for your daily posts. But, when it comes to your profile pictures and marketing materials, an amateur job won’t cut it. Keep your photography as clean and bright as possible to make it pop. It’s fine to have the occasional pic of customers having fun in the restaurant, but keep it simple.  

Also, remember to include a photograph of the exterior of the restaurant for the purposes of association. Potential customers may drive past your restaurant without giving it a second thought until they see a photo of it.  

When it comes to Instagram, your imagery is everything. Prepare to invest in it. Instagram allows you to upload up to 10 photographs to a single post, so you have plenty of scope to show off your venue to its full advantage.

Tell Your Story

You must have more than fantastic photos. Instagram also provides the opportunity to tell your brand’s story through the Story Highlights. These allow Instagram users to browse your profile in a similar way as they would peruse a website. You can add Story Highlight Covers to make your page look more professional.  

Telling the story of your brand creates intimacy between your restaurant and the viewer. If your story is a good one, this can give you an advantage in a hugely competitive market. Online ordering company, Upmenu is a great example of a company using Instagram to its advantage with clean, clear photography and a compelling story. 

Competitions and Giveaways

Everyone loves a freebie. Whether it’s a free meal or just a free drink, Instagrammers are often more than happy to help with marketing in return for ‘something for nothing.’ Run a ‘tag a friend’ competition for quick results. Include terms and conditions, how the winner will be selected and what the prizes will be. 

Under the Influence

This one is a bit trickier, but a goldmine if you can swing it. Do a quick search for influencers and food bloggers in your area on Instagram. Then engage with them.  Once you’ve built up a rapport, invite them to the restaurant for a free or heavily discounted meal. Influencer marketing can be one of the most lucrative marketing methods available to a restaurant. That said, don’t harass people as that can have the opposite effect. 

Instagram Advertising

Like boosted posts on Facebook, Instagram users can pay to promote their stories to users’ feeds. Although these stories will look like regular posts, they feature a badge that shows that it’s a ‘sponsored post’. 

Sponsored posts can feature content, imagery, a call to action, and a website or landing page link. Instagram advertising is pay per click and calculated through targeting, ad placement, format, and the time of year the ad is placed.  

Although it’s impossible to say exactly how much your Instagram ad efforts will cost, most users find that they spend around £1.20 per click on average. 

There are a number of different kinds of ad available on Instagram and, these are as follows: 

  • Photo ads: Fairly self-explanatory, photo adds allow you to showcase your restaurant and menu items through snazzy images.  You can choose from a few calls to action including sending visitors to your Instagram profile or to your website. 
  • Video ads: Instagram allows you to include video footage of up to one minute in length in your advertising.  These can be used really effectively to give visitors a quick tour of your restaurant or a sneak peek of one of your chefs in action. 
  • Carousel ads: These type of ads offer a kind of slide show of images or videos and offer a little more scope if you have a lot to offer.  You can use up to 10 images or videos in order to highlight both your restaurant and your dishes. 
  • Collection ads: These ads let you combine photos, videos and direct response – all in one advert for the ultimate in marketing power. 
  • Explore ads: These are ads which are accessed when somebody clicks on a photo or video within Instagram’s Explore screen. Advertisers can use both photos and videos in these ads.


Optimizing Instagram can quickly net you a ton of followers and, more importantly, a ton of new customers. Today’s social media user is savvy and can spot a salesy ad a mile off. 

For this reason, make all your Instagram content interesting, engaging, and eminently ‘grammable. Before you start, learn how it works, and who uses it for what. Instagram can help boost your restaurant marketing if done well. 

By familiarizing yourself with the platform and its users, you’ll be in a great position to know what kind of content to use for your posts and for your advertisements. Happy ‘gramming!

© 2023 Social Hospitality, LLC. All rights reserved.

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