Restaurant marketing is constantly evolving—and with the increase in online ordering, reviews, and social media engagement, your online presence is critical to your bottom line. According to restaurant marketing agency MGH, 45% of restaurant guests in the United States tried a restaurant because they saw a social media post from the business, and 22% made another visit after further social media engagement.

Your guests want to connect with your restaurant and fellow guests on social media. That means you need to step up your game, proactively encourage two-way communication across social channels, and encourage your guests to share their stories and photos.

A social media primer.

If you haven't been active on social media in a while, or if you only post updates sporadically, now's the time to change that. Create a posting schedule. Twice a week is a good rule of thumb. Experiment with different content types and campaigns to see what your audience responds to. And keep the conversation going if your guests drop you a line. According to SproutSocial, 40% of consumers expect brands to respond to social media questions within an hour, and 79% expect a response within 24 hours.

The content you create—whether it's posts, ads, blogs, or videos—must be relatable and true to your brand. If you're a family restaurant, harness that energy. If you're a brewpub, make sure that your beers are perfectly positioned in your food photos.

1. Post #foodpics.

Instagram, which Facebook owns, is still the top channel for restaurant food photography. You aren't limited to a single photo or video of stunning, drool-worthy visual content. You can include both in a flippable slideshow and embellish them with animated GIFs and polls in Instagram's "Stories" feature. Capturing the perfect shots for your brand requires a little planning, plating, and practice, MGH notes, but you can also repost photos that your guests have tagged you in. (Just remember to tag them back and give them a photo credit.)

2. Focus on user-generated content.

User-generated content is precious and instantly accessible. Once your audience is engaged, encourage them to share their photos. If you're introducing a new menu item, pair it with a photo contest and a custom hashtag, and encourage your followers to vote for their favorite shots. Or, ask your carryout guests how they make their takeout orders special once they get their food home. Do they plate it up? Pair it with a homemade cocktail? Tweak it with special sauces or sides? If your guests share photos, showcase them on your social media channels or your in-house screens. Offer incentives, such as takeout reward codes or social media kudos, for the most creative submissions.

Give guests a reason to engage with you, and they'll go the extra mile.

3. Go behind the scenes.

Take cameras into the kitchen, prep areas, and takeaway counters to show off your ingredients and your staff (and, because so many guests are still concerned about safety, your sanitation methods). Think of creative ways to show off the story behind your dishes. Do you pick up your fish orders directly from the boat? Is one of your cooks a rock star at mise en place? You could also post a quick Boomerang video of a dish being cooked and challenge your audience to guess what it is.

4. Feature your employees.

Showing off your staff online gives them much-needed recognition, gives your guests a closer perspective of who they are, and encourages your team to boost your signal by sharing the posts on their accounts. Did your new cook develop the next menu special? Are there any sports team rivalries? You could even highlight outside achievements, such as a graduation, a college acceptance, or a new pet.

Employee testimonials can also help to extend your brand message as an employer.

5. Spread your vibes.

The vibe is the bread and butter of influencers, who pose in specific outfits in often exotic locations to elicit emotional reactions from their audiences. To curate a vibe, think beyond your food—find creative ways to capture the experience and the feel of your restaurant. Do you have a date-night ready location with front-row sunset seating? Show it off in a TikTok-style video. Does your bartender artfully shake up cocktails for the happy hour crowd? Capture it all with your smartphone's time-lapse setting.

6. Use the right tools.

Creative content is key, but keeping your customers happy is critical to your success. Every review and comment affects your online brand, so reliable responses are a must. A social media marketing system will enable you to create social campaigns, share limited time deals that are instantly redeamable on your POS, and let your guests earn loyalty points for social shares. Add a reputation management system into the mix, and you've got a one-stop shop where you can manage your online relationships with your guests. You already know that your restaurant is great—this way, you can stay ahead of any issues and make sure that your followers remember that you're great, too.

No matter which of these ideas you put into action, your customers want the best experience possible. Deliver what they expect both online and in person. Dining out isn't just about eating excellent food. It's about having a great time, too. Make a genuine effort, and you'll see your online audience grow, and turn followers into customers.

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