Social media is a crucial part of running a modern business. Whether your restaurant is currently active on social media or not, you can be sure that your guests are tweeting, posting, and Instagramming about your business online. You’re much better off, for many reasons, if you join the conversation proactively.
For many restaurant operators, managing social media profiles is just another item on their ever-increasing list of to-dos. For others, social media is a priority in their business development and something they’ve built into their restaurant marketing plans.
Nowadays, it's important to keep in mind that whenever someone visits your social media pages, it’s like they’re peeking into your restaurant and having a quick chat with one of your staff.
Whether you manage your restaurant’s online presence yourself, you’ve delegated the task to a dedicated team member, or you’ve hired someone to be a full-time marketing manager for your restaurant, it's always helpful to get inspiration from other restaurants who are killing the social media game.
Here are 10 ideas to inspire your restaurant’s social media strategy. For each one, we’ll share an example of who did it well, what they did, why it’s awesome, and in cases where it’s a more involved type of post, how to pull it off.
10 Social Media Marketing Ideas for Restaurants
1. Show Off What’s Behind the Scenes
Who they are: Wave Asian Bistro & Sushi in Mount Dora, FL
What they’re doing: Aside from sharing high-quality photos of their delicious prepared dishes, Wave also regularly shares behind the scenes videos and photos from what goes on in the kitchen.
Why it's awesome: These days, restaurant-goers love to see how the food gets made in restaurant kitchens — in fact, there are countless extremely popular Youtube series that spotlight how a restaurant makes a signature dish. You can easily attract new guests by chiming in with photos or a video on social media showing how food gets made in your restaurant. The best part is your kitchen staff are already doing the work that your customers want to see; you just have to film it.
How to pull it off: Make sure the kitchen is spotless when you film, and showcase your most mouthwatering dishes. You can choose to show the whole process of making a dish, and upload it to YouTube, as Wave does, but even a 10-second clip of filleting a fish can be really effective. You want to show off the skills and talent of your staff, and entice new guests to come try their amazing food.
2. Create a Consistent Voice
Who they are: Sweetgreen, national chain
What they’re doing: Sweetgreen has built an iconic brand centered on fresh and sustainable food. Their clean and modern aesthetic is consistent in everything they do — whether you’re on the mobile app, in a store, or following them on social media. The same vibrant photography is used across all their marketing materials, and they use a casual, fun tone. The Sweetgreen brand is recognizable even when their logo isn’t on the screen.
Why it's awesome: There’s no doubt that Sweetgreen thought long and hard about their social media strategy (and probably hired an agency to help). But even without professional help, it’s possible to create consistent messaging and imagery for your business. It extends your restaurant brand beyond the four walls of your location.
3. Respond to Online Reviews
Who they are: Chop Shop, three locations in Colorado
What they’re doing: The managers at Chop Shop are constantly monitoring their Yelp business page. Almost every review has a response, both good and bad, with a personal note addressing the reviewer's comments.
Why it's awesome: By addressing negative reviews and showing appreciation for positive ones, the Chop Shop team has created a transparent and friendly persona online. They're not afraid to talk about their flaws and make a public attempt to improve upon them. The managers on Yelp use negative reviews as an opportunity to learn about their business and to turn unhappy customers into brand advocates. Even if you're not able to address every post on your Yelp page, it's a good idea to address your disgruntled customers and to try to turn that relationship around.
4. Use Social Media to Drive Email Signups
Who they are: Steak 'n Shake, national chain
What they’re doing: Steak 'n Shake use their Instagram bio to point guests to their email signup — and they add a very tempting incentive: a free “Double 'n Cheese 'n Fries” if they sign up.
Why it's awesome: Email newsletters are one of the best ways to get to know your guests, and to drive repeat visits. If a customer gives you their email, it opens up the wide world of email marketing: you can get in touch to share coupons, birthday discounts, special events, and much more.
5. User Generated Content
Who they are: Wingstop, national chain
What they’re doing: User-generated content, or UGC, is a restaurant's best friend. UGC is photos, tweets, and other forms of social media made by your guests that show your brand in a positive light. You can repost any UGC that you find online about your restaurant, as long as you credit the original author in the social media post. Wingstop takes advantage of any and all UGC, including funny memes that they either get an artist to illustrate, or put on a background that’s a photo of their food.
Why it's awesome: In short, your raving fans are doing 95% of the work for you by taking photos of your business or talking about it publicly. By reposting their content, you connect with them and show other guests that you are in touch with your community, while letting your customers hear from their peers, instead of from you, that your business is worth visiting.
How to pull it off: When reposting memes and other funny posts about your restaurant, make sure they’re in line with your brand. If you have a funny, lighthearted tone like Wingstop, memes can be great.
6. Spotlight Your Employees
Who they are: Sandwich Hag
What they’re doing: Spotlighting your employees is always a great move on social media. It shows your potential guests that you care about your staff as individuals, and you celebrate their strengths. At Sandwich Hag, owner Reyna Duong employs her brother Sang, who has Down syndrome, as well as many other staff members with different abilities, and many of the restaurant's instagram posts highlight the team's strengths.
Why it's awesome: Profiling the people behind any business is a great way to humanize the experience for customers. Whether or not your team is winning awards, posting pictures from "behind the scenes" or sharing funny anecdotes about the staff can make followers feel more connected to the business and the people that make it possible. In the post below, Sandwich Hag goes above and beyond, sharing an important announcement and emotional post about taking time for family and figuring out work-life balance in the industry, accompanied by an awesome photo of Duong and her brother, Sang.
View this post on Instagram
📣🔊Important change starting June 1st 📣🔊 _ @sugar.sang has been asking me to take him to the park. I haven’t been able to, because I’m working. He’s been asking to get back to the Buddhist temple. I haven’t been able to take him, because I’m working. The only day off is Monday, full of restaurant errands and doctor appts for Sang, therapy for my mental fitness, etc etc. _ Sang is also working right by my side, when he’s not at school. We’ve been going non-stop for several years now. _ In a couple of months, we’ll hit our 2 year anniversary of @sandwich_hag brick and mortar. _ We are busier now more than ever. I am beyond grateful. _ With that said, I’ve decided to make a change. For me, for Sang, for my family. _ Starting June 1st, I’ll be open for lunch only, during the week days Tuesday - Friday. Weekends Saturday - Sunday will still be lunch & dinner. _ I recognize that closing during some of your busiest hours isn’t industry norm. When you operate and Chef at your own restaurant, tough decisions are made each day. This is one of them. _ However, putting my family first, is an easy one. Thank you in advance for understanding, and your constant support. _ Love you Dallas. 💕 - @chefreyeduong
7. Ask Questions to Engage Followers
Who they are: Mei Mei
What they’re doing: Improve engagement on social media by asking fun questions and encouraging responses. Followers are more likely to remember the content of the post, like the fact that Mei Mei has a special of sweet corn fritters, if they interact with it in some way.
Why it's awesome: Social media is about more than just telling your followers what's happening at your restaurant. It's also about listening to them. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are a great way to create a two-way dialogue with your customers. The question function on instagram stories is particularly engaging and fun for potential customers to use. Asking questions can inspire followers to engage with your posts and to interact with you, rather than simply continuing to scroll to the next story, or down the page.
8. Capitalize on Trending Topics
Who they are: Upper Crust Pizzeria
What they’re doing: Social media was abuzz when a vicious Nor’easter named Stella hit Boston, so Upper Crust Pizzeria chimed in on social media using the already trending hashtags (#openinBOS) and a photo of their team bundled up with a local weatherman.
Why it’s awesome: Jumping on topics that are already trending on social media is a great way to increase exposure for your posts, especially if you have a clever take on the topic. Marketers call this strategy "newsjacking" and use it as a way to be seen by everyone following the popular trend. Upper Crust also took this opportunity to show off their staff (see #6 on this list).
9. Host Social Media Contests
Who they are: Capriotti's Sandwich Shop in Las Vegas, NV
What they’re doing: Everybody loves free stuff! Capriotti's teamed up with a local news radio station to offer a $100 gift card to a lucky winner who tags their friend in the comments of their Facebook post.
Why it's awesome: There are a million types of contests you can run on social media. They're quick wins for both your restaurant and your fans. By asking guests to participate in fun trivia questions, riddles, fill-in-the-blanks, photo contests, caption contests, or even just by tagging their friends, the restaurant is building rapport with guests and encouraging engagement online.
10. Spotlight your Vendors
Who they are: Donna's Toronto in Toronto, Canada
What they’re doing: Showcasing your vendors who provide the ingredients that make your food so amazing is a great way to show you care about everyone who makes your restaurant great — and helps you reach the clientele of those vendors. For example, Donna's highlights that the bagels in their Reuben sandwich are from a local bakery called Harbord St Bakery — and Harbord St Bakery also shared a post saying that they're providing bagels for Donna's for a special.
Why it's awesome: Both businesses are driving their raving fans to the other's business — it's a great way to build your restaurant community, in terms of customers and potential collaborators and vendors. Additionally, restaurant clientele these days love to know about where the ingredients in their favorite dishes come from, and if you show that you support other local businesses, you can attract new customers that are looking to support their community.
While starting and maintaining a vibrant social media network can seem like a daunting task, the bottom line is that it's about people. Social platforms provide a direct line of communication with existing and potential customers. Use these examples of social media for restaurants as inspiration to kick your business's social media marketing into shape. Need more guidance in building a marketing plan for your business? Check out our restaurant marketing plan template below.