Restaurant Marketing Secrets: The Shakes that Broke Instagram

By: Reserve

6 Minute Read

Feb 01, 2018

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Joe Isidori, the owner of Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer, has the kind of problem every chef hopes to have: people clamoring to get into your restaurant.

Since late last year, diners from far and wide have been flocking to the NYC hot spot for the awesome burgers, beers, and of course, the Instagram-breaking milkshakes.

black tap milkshakesPhoto by Black Tap Burgers & Beer.

Thanks to a few genius, food-porn-worthy shots — giant shakes with toppings like Sour Patch Kids, full-size cookies and cupcakes, caramel apples, rainbow-colored candy canes, and more — photos of Isidori’s shakes on Instagram went viral virtually overnight. The professionally trained chef (who also spent five years overseeing food prep for Trump International properties) shared his take on how Instagram can be an effective marketing tool and how restaurants can use the site to drive business.

black tap chefJoe Isidori. Photo by Alek Michaud.

Where did the idea for the shakes come from?

We didn’t plan on it. It was all by accident. One day my wife came to me and said, “I love cotton candy. Make me a cotton candy milkshake.” You want to impress your wife, so I went and made a cotton candy milkshake. We adorned it with all these amazing things — candies, lollipops, whipped cream, you name it — put it on Instagram, and literally the rest is history.

From the day I put it on Instagram, people were coming into the restaurant with their phones in their hands going, “I want this, now.” From there, we realized we were onto something. We created about half a dozen shakes, put out a full menu, and we’ve had a line ever since. We launched the shakes in mid-November last year. It’s now mid-July, and we still have a four-hour line.

restaurants on instagramPhoto by Black Tap Burgers & Beer.

Let’s be real: At $15 a pop, Black Tap milkshakes aren’t cheap. How did you decide on a price point that would jive with the rest of your menu and not alienate people?

Obviously, these things are really unique, so they’re going to garner a higher price point. While the shakes bring a lot of value outside of revenue, they actually cost a lot of money to produce. If I were to follow a proper protocol as far as pricing goes, some of the shakes would be probably be even more. But they can’t be so expensive that they’re unattainable. I always have this rule of thumb where everything should be under $19 — all our food. So we don’t have any burgers or any plates of food that go over $19. We serve beer and wine, and most of our beverage options are under $10.

restaurant instagram marketing

Photo by Black Tap Burgers & Beer.

When it came to the shakes, I asked a lot of people, “How much would you pay for this?” I heard $14, $15, $16, and at the end of the day, I said, “You know what, let’s just make them a blanket $15.” We make it more of an experience (not about the dollar amount), so people can choose whatever they want. Since everything’s the same price, they don’t have to think about it, and they can have fun. And that $15 mark has really worked, because it sits right in the middle. It’s not $16, it’s not $14. It’s fair, and people feel comfortable about it. Every once in awhile you get the naysayers but the majority — I’d say 90% of people — always say it was well worth it.

How influential do you think Instagram is in driving actual foot traffic?

It’s number one. I don’t think there’s anything that can beat it. Outside of me being on TV next to a celebrity with a shake in their hand, nothing else beats Instagram. We’re what you call “an Instagram brand.”

How much has Black Tap’s following grown since the shakes blew up on Instagram?

We opened up in March 2015, and we had a great run — we were at about 10k followers on Instagram. In October 2015, we won NYC’s Food & Wine Burger Bash, where we became the official #1 burger in New York City. So we were like, off to the races. The whole world was looking at us, and that’s really when the lines started, because we had the best burger. We got to about 24k followers, and then I woke up one night and my phone had crashed (because I left my notifications on). When my phone came back to life, we were at 100k followers. In reality, it [that kind of rapid growth] happened all within 72 hours. Now we’re at 201k followers, and we expect to be about 250k by end of year. We average about 1,500 new followers a week.

restaurant social media marketingPhoto by Black Tap Burgers & Beer.

Wow, that’s amazing. Any advice on how other restaurateurs can maximize their reach on Instagram?

There is no strategy. There are two rules. One: You cannot create the next food trend. You cannot wake up one day and say, “I’m going to create the next food trend.” It doesn’t happen. And two: You cannot wake up one day and say, “You know what, I want 100k followers.” It’s the power of the people. The only way it happens is if you capture their attention with interesting content, and they do the work for you. You really can’t do anything. You just gotta do what you feel is on brand, gear it towards certain crowd, go after them, and hope that they do the rest of the work for you.

black tap nyc

Joe Isidori. Photo by Alek Michaud.

So if people come for the shake, do they stay for the burger (or other stuff)?

85% of our customers all get a burger and a shake. The other 15% come in just get one or the other. Also, 20% of our clientele buy some sort of swag, whether it be a T-shirt or a Black Tap backpack. They’re really attracted to the brand, so whatever they can get to bring back with them, they do.

Has what you’re doing at Black Tap changed at all since the shakes took off?

Not at all. What you see now has been the same since Day One. The only thing different is we added the shakes. We had all the merchandise the whole time, and the shakes were really the last piece of the puzzle. Outside of that, we’ve done everything the same. Even in our expansion plans, we’re sticking to our DNA — burgers, shakes, and beer. And that’s what you’re gonna see on our Instagram.

social media for restaurants

Photo by Black Tap Burgers & Beer.

What’s your top marketing tip for restaurateurs?

Just do your thing, make sure people are happy, and always provide great quality. If you do that, the people will do the rest.


Instagram has clearly captured the attention of diners and restauratuers alike. Both benefit from more interaction between restaurants and customers, and restaurateurs enjoy the free exposure and - when managed correctly - the word of mouth and social love their restaurant gets as a result.

Want to make your #foodporn shots stand out on Instagram?

Download a free copy of Social Media for Restaurants: How to Manage Your Brand Online below!

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