- To succeed on Instagram, restaurants need to post high-quality food pictures consistently and engage with their audience through comments and stories.
- Setting up an attractive Instagram profile with strategic story highlights, a clear bio, and creating a selfie station can greatly boost customer engagement and marketing effectiveness.
- Regular promotions, showcasing staff and setting, and using Instagram stories daily can help restaurants grow their following and increase revenue.
In this guide, I’m going to teach you everything you need to know to bring real, paying customers into your restaurant using Instagram.
This is a step-by-step playbook that you can do yourself or hire someone to do for you.
I’ll show you what REAL Instagram success looks like for restaurants and walk you through every single step you need to take in order to turn Instagram into a profitable marketing channel.
Is Instagram Having THIS Level of Impact On Your Restaurant?
Most restaurant owners know they need to be on Instagram.
But few really understand what success on Instagram actually looks like.
So before I tell you what steps to take, let’s look at the real, tangible impact Instagram is having on several restaurants that have succeeded with this marketing channel.
This is Khalil's Kitchen in Brockton Massachusetts.
The restaurant has around 9,000 followers on Instagram — a strong number but one that is also very attainable. Every restaurant that follows the instructions in this guide will cross 9,000 followers by the end of their first year using Instagram.
And that’s why this next number should excite you.
Over the last 30 days, Khalil’s Kitchen has done $3,114 in food orders through Instagram.
That’s an impressive 40% of their total online orders from the last month.
Here’s another example of how Instagram can grow your business.
This is Talkin’ Tacos in Miami, Florida.
While this restaurant doesn’t drive a large percentage of orders directly through Instagram, they’ve used Instagram as more of a branding tool to connect with their community and generate a massive amount of referral business.
Their growth to over 24,000 Instagram followers has correlated with their fast-paced growth to two locations in just a few years of business.
Over the last 30 days, Talkin’ Tacos has done $32,478 in direct online orders.
For context, that is 88% growth from just 10 months ago. Learn exactly how Talkin’ Tacos doubled their revenue in one year by reading our Restaurant Growth Handbook.
How would your business be different if you had 24,000 Instagram followers to share your restaurant promotions with?
How would your business be different if you were bringing in an extra 40% in revenue directly through Instagram?
These types of results are what’s possible when you get serious about Instagram marketing for your restaurant.
And the best part is that there’s not a ton of effort required to knock this marketing channel out of the park.
It’s really just a matter of setting things up correctly and completing a few simple steps each week (steps you can complete yourself or very easily outsource). We’ll cover every one of those steps in this guide.
3 Steps You Only Need To Do Once
Let’s start with the simplest tasks in front you: the things you only need to do once.
There’s only three steps here.
You may have done two of these things already, but there’s a very strong chance that a few tweaks from the steps below will make a notable difference in your order flow.
I can almost guarantee you haven’t done the third, because if you had, you’d already be crushing it on Instagram.
Step 1. Create Strategic Story Highlights
If you don’t post Stories regularly, you probably don’t have your Story Highlights setup.
And that’s a huge bummer.
Because unlike posting Stories every day, Story Highlights only need to be set up ONCE.
You CAN add to them over time, and you should, but there’s a handful of “evergreen” stories that you can record and pin to the top of your profile as highlights in one go, and they will continue benefiting your restaurant forever.
Here’s a great example of optimal Story Highlights from Talkin’ Tacos.
There’s a few reasons this setup is optimal:
- Each category name is short and clearly readable.
- It immediately answers important questions that lead to orders (ex. When are you open? Where are you located? What’s on your menu?).
- It shows off social proof from customers (and even includes celebrity customers, although that’s not essential if you don’t have any)
- It has nicely designed icons for each Highlight category.
You might find this is a little funny, but let’s look at a counter-example.
Let’s look back at Khalil’s Kitchen, a restaurant that is doing 40% of its online sales through Instagram.
As you can see, Khalil’s is making a few mistakes:
- Their category names are so long, they got cut off.
- They don’t have their location displayed anywhere in their profile.
- The images are pulled from the stories and difficult to understand.
They took the simplest possible approach here.
They just pinned some Stories they’d already recorded that show off their customer’s love for the restaurant and some of the different item categories on their menu.
And it still works.
Even with none of the more sophisticated steps taken by Talkin’ Tacos, Kahlil’s Kitchen does a ton of business through Instagram, with their Stories playing a role in that success.
The point here is that getting some strategic stories pinned to your profile is worth doing, whether you just pin a few customer stories and take a few quick videos of your food, or you go the extra mile and create icons, record videos of your location, menu, and hours, and optimize the category names.
You don’t have to be perfect to get results.
Step 2. Set Up Your Profile The Right Way
Your profile consists of your username, name, picture, and description. It’s the most important real estate in your Instagram presence, and so it’s worth thinking twice about what you are displaying there.
For your Instagram Username, you ideally just want to use your restaurant brand name, like this example from @staplehouse:
Unless you have a very unique restaurant name, they’re is a pretty good chance your brand name will already be in use as a username. If that is the case, add “restaurant” at the end and see if that’s available.
Playing off the above example, if you also had a restaurant called “Staplehouse”, you would look to see if @staplehouserestaurant is available.
What you don’t want to do is choose a username that specifies a location. You also don’t want to create multiple accounts for multiple locations.
Using one account that focuses on the brand rather than the location is going to help you grow your account, and then Instagram’s algorithm will make sure you are getting seen primarily by people in your area.
For your Instagram Profile Name, just use your brand name.
No need to overthink this one.
For your Instagram Profile Picture, use your logo.
For a while, great food pictures performed better than logos, but Instagram has become as much about building a brand as it is about exposure to new customers, so just use your logo.
For your Instagram Profile Description, include a brief description of what you offer and a call-to-action (CTA).
This is the most important part of your profile.
It’s important that you provide a very clear and concise statement about what you offer and then call the reader to action.
Once again, Talkin’ Tacos provides a great example of this.
They start with a very concise, two-word description of their offer: “Authentic Mexican”.
Next, they list out some specific popular items: tacos, burritos, etc.
Then, they include a CTA — “Order delivery on our website” — and they include a link to that website.
They also include the addresses of their two locations, which combines with the Story Highlights to make it really easy for new customers to find them.
This is exactly how you should approach your bio.
- Say what you offer.
- Invite people to order from you.
- Make yourself easy to find.
It’s that easy!
Step 3. Set Up A Selfie Station
This is one of those steps that feels difficult, undoable, or unnecessary.
It’s none of those things.
In the post-covid era, every restaurant needs a selfie station.
That is all user-generated-content... and you can scroll for days before getting to the end of it.
Selfie stations work... like crazy.
And the best part is that you can literally do the bare minimum and still get great results.
You don’t need to create a whole sitting area.
Just find a small corner or slice of your existing wall, throw up some fake ivy, and most importantly, get a neon sign.
Here’s a great example from Talkin’ Tacos.
That is a corner of the restaurant that otherwise would be unused.
You can do this for a few hundred bucks, and it will pay that back exponentially. Selfie stations immediately turn your visitors into advertisers for your restaurant… forever.
Don’t skip this step!.
5 Steps You Should Do Every Week
Doing something once is pretty easy, and that means we’re done with the easy part.
But this next part isn’t actually hard.
It’s easy steps that need to be taken every single week... and doing anything every single week can be hard IF you don’t have the right systems in place.
But you already understand systems.
- You source food supplies every week.
- You fulfill every order that comes in.
- You manage staff and payments every week.
You have systems in place for a lot of things far more complex than Instagram marketing.
And that’s going to be the key to succeeding with the following five steps. These can’t be something you just hope you’ll find time for here and there.
These steps need to be baked into your workflow, whether you do them yourself, hand them over to a staff member, or outsource them to a freelancer.
Make these a part of your system, and you’ll leapfrog 95% of your competitors along the way to the type of massive restaurant growth we showed you at the beginning of this guide.
Step 1. Reply To Every Comment
Nobody does this... seriously, nobody does this.
And here’s what that means.
You can engage with your customers and potential customers better than every single one of your competitors... for free, and with very little work.
Most restaurant Instagram accounts do not get a ton of comments. If you are getting 100 total comments per week, you are getting great engagement.
You can easily reply to every single one of those comments in less than an hour.
These don’t need to be long, drawn-out comments.
Quick replies like these are totally fine!
This is going to have a huge impact on your customer engagement. People like being acknowledged, especially when they aren’t used to having restaurants acknowledge their enthusiasm or questions.
If you have time to be even more personal and engaging in the comments, go for it.
The more human the connection you make with people, the more they will respond.
Step 2. Run Weekly Promotions
Weekly promotions act as an incentive for new customers while also giving regulars something to look forward to.
They also are the perfect excuse to advertise your restaurant on social media.
You can take two different approaches here.
The first option is to offer the same promotion every week on the same day.
For example, offering half-price burgers every Tuesday is going to:
- Give you something to post on Instagram every single Tuesday
- Give new customers an incentive to try your restaurant
- Give your regulars a compelling reason to show up every week
Running the same promotion every week is likely going to affect your brand. People will associate your brand with a great burger deal on Tuesdays.
This can be both good and bad.
If there are a lot of similar restaurants to yours in the area, it can provide the incentive people need to choose your restaurant consistently over your competitors.
If you are a more unique option, it might take away from people trying other parts of your menu or visiting on other days.
Another approach is to offer different promotions each week or cycle through different promotions from week to week.
You could run a craft beer night one week.
Or you could do something non-pricing related by having a night with trivia, live music, or food-based challenges.
The point here is that it gives you something to talk about and creates some urgency when people see your posts on Instagram.
When you show a picture from your menu, people can come grab that any time, but when you show a deal or event that is only happening that day, it encourages people to make same-day plans to come into your restaurant.
Step 3. Post Food Pictures Every Day
Urgency can be powerful, but at the end of the day, consistency is what establishes your restaurant’s reputation in the community.
Consistently good food.
And consistently getting that food in front of people.
The more people see your food, the more often they are going to come to your restaurant.
This is why the staple of any successful Instagram strategy for restaurants is simply to post a picture of your food every single day.
Or at least 5-6 days per week.
If you look at any big Instagram account, you see this same thing.
Here’s the last week of posts from Talkin’ Tacos.
Notice that none of these posts include discounts or special offers.
It’s just non-stop pictures of food, and it works.
And the quality of the photo isn’t nearly as big of a deal as it used to be, because every modern smartphone on the market has a high enough camera quality to produce great photos. Just make sure you have a light source pointing at the food you are photographing, and you’re good to go.
Every time a potential customer sees this food, they are that much closer to coming in and trying the restaurant for the first time.
Every time an existing customer sees the food, they are that much closer to coming in for a repeat visit.
Consistency over time is how you build any restaurant marketing channel, and it’s the exact same for driving revenue to your restaurant using Instagram.
Step 4. Post Pictures Of Your Staff & Setting Each Week
While getting pictures of your food in front of your audience is most important, there are a few other types of posts you can add to engage with your community in a more personal way.
As I mentioned earlier, the more human the connection you make with people, the more they will respond.
Juniper and Ivy in San Diego is especially good at this and has grown it’s Instagram account to over 38,000 followers with a wide variety of engaging posts.
The photos they post of their staff are especially “human”.
They also post photos of customers enjoying unique experiences in their dining room.
They post photos highlighting their work with local nonprofits.
And they do all these extra posts without forgetting the main star of the show... their food.
This is exactly how you want to run your account: 5-7 food photos each week with one or two extra photos highlighting either your staff, setting, partnerships, donations, vendors, customers, or anything else that you want to highlight.
Step 5. Post Stories Every Day
If you are really serious about bringing in 40% additional revenue to your restaurant through Instagram, then you’ll want to be using Stories.
Stories are yet another medium you can use to make human connections with your audience, give them a behind-the-scenes look at your food, or share special moments taking place at your restaurant.
If you look at the most successful restaurants on Instagram, you’ll see a lot of stories.
If we click on Talkin’ Tacos stories today, we can see that they’ve published nine stories within the last five hours.
If we look at Juniper and Ivy’s Instagram, they’ve published three Instagram Stories within the last six hours.
Café La Jefa has published seven Instagram Stories within the last 21 hours.
There’s no set number that you need to hit.
The key is to make posting stories part of your daily workflow. Some of these stories will be quick little videos you record and post within about 30 seconds. Others will be customer stories of your restaurant that you can reshare in your own Instagram Stories in less than 30 seconds.
If you have great staff and a positive work culture, encourage your staff members to take little videos throughout the day and then repost the best ones on your restaurant account.
Again, it’s a numbers game.
The more times a customer sees your restaurant’s brand, food, staff, setting, etc., the more frequently they will visit your restaurant, recommend your restaurant to a friend, place an online order, or even just share your posts with someone they know.
This all adds up and translates to thousands of dollars in orders over time.
Should You Pay For Instagram Ads To Grow Faster?
Historically, growing an Instagram account "organically" has been sufficient to drive sales. And to this day, you can successfully drive sales using the eight simple steps I just described for you.
If you follow these eight steps, you can follow the example of Khalil's Kitchen and reach 9,000 followers in the next year, bringing in a notable percentage of your sales through Instagram.
Once you've mastered these eight steps, you open up a few more options for yourself.
In recent years, ambitious restaurateurs have found that paid advertising can help growth happen significantly faster.
Organic Instagram for businesses is becoming increasingly tough with their ever-changing algorithm that prioritizes influencer and paid content. With that, we don’t use organic Instagram as a tactic for broad reach, but rather a platform to engage with lower-funnel megafans, execute our brand voice, and share promotions only when necessary. If you look at our posts, we don’t say things like “Come by for happy hour!” but more “normal”, funny captions that you’d see from one of your friends. Our brand tone is bold and can toe the line of inappropriateness, and Instagram is a great platform on which to showcase that – your followers probably already know about your brand, so you don’t need to provide basic information. We use paid social campaigns to capture that upper-funnel audience and bring new people through the door through more awareness messaging, and measure success based on the goal of the campaign (reach, clicks, engagement or conversions).
While we've seen many restaurants using the organic strategies in this guide to drive tangible restaurant growth, we also know that adding in advertising dollars in the way Nicole outlined can rapidly accelerate growth.
We will be putting together an in-depth guide to paid advertising on Instagram, and if you'd like to receive that guide when it's completed, 100% free, signup up for our newsletter below.
Frequently asked questions
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Their customer service is, bar none, the best and they’ve really helped with our success. In less than 5 weeks we have over $25,000 in sales and it’s the middle of winter not our busy season. I’m excited for the future and recommend it!
Adam Guild is the CEO of Owner, a restaurant marketing platform that makes online growth easy for restaurants.
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