You know restaurant success is all about getting the word out to your community. But how?
People barely read newspapers or fliers anymore. You can pay for ads on social media, but word of mouth is still the best (and cheapest) way to make people interested.
While Yelp is still a primary source for people to leave reviews about your restaurant, a positive review from a food blogger or a pic of your shrimp scampi from an Instagrammer could boost your restaurant's reputation.
That's why we're starting a Food Blogger Series on the Toast blog. We'll interview top food bloggers in cities across the U.S. about their advice for restaurateurs, their best experiences at restaurants, and their top social media tips for restaurants that want to learn how to use Instagram more effectively.
Rather than start in Boston - where Toast HQ is based - we decided to venture to the South. Austin, Texas is a young city and a growing mecca for foodies. As more and more restaurants open in Austin, we looked to top food bloggers in Austin, Texas to answer our questions.
Want to get in touch? Most of them have their email on their Instagram profile and would be happy to review your restaurant.
Rachel Holtin of @austinfoodstagram has been Instagramming since 2014, and has one of the most popular "foodstagrams" in the country. While she mostly posts meals from local restaurants and food trucks (like Tumble 22, Snap Kitchen, and Tillery Kitchen and Bar), she also partners with restaurants for giveaways, helps promote happy hours or discounts, and travels across the country with an eye for foodie photos.
How have you developed a working relationship with restaurateurs? Influencer marketing is still overall a new world for both businesses and influencers themselves. The restaurants want you to come in and often offer perks such as free food. As far as payments and results around success, there is still a ton of opportunity for sophistication.
What is the most important thing a restaurant owner should know about food bloggers? Treat them like normal customers, don't try too hard!
Why does it pay for restaurant owners to work with food bloggers? The exposure is huge and it feels more authentic than working with traditional advertisers. Influencers are the trusted source for their realm of expertise.
What is your hashtag strategy? How can a restaurant Instagram replicate your success? Use consistent hashtags for your brands, and include a few others that seem to be trending.
What, in your mind, is the future of foodie Instagrams and blogs? The industry will only grow from here. The difference will likely be in the platform but tech and digital advancements will always play a huge role.
Lesa Rossick of @keepaustineatin was such an active part of the Austin eating scene that she started an app, also called Keep Austin Eatin', that lists the top 20 food experiences throughout Austin with maps and reviews. How did she get started? She started documenting her adventures on a blog after her friends kept asking her where to eat. She then expanded to social media and then the app! Her Instagram is now a community for foodies all across Austin.
How have you developed a working relationship with restaurateurs? I don't accept payments from local restaurants so that I remain unbiased but get invited to almost everything happening in the city. It's a huge blessing and had no idea it would lead to this!
What is the most important thing a restaurant owner should know about food bloggers? Many of us are here to support and love on local restaurants. I'm thrilled to know restaurants who can't afford big marketing dollars get free shout outs and can explode just because people love them and want everyone else to know! This is exactly why our team works so hard!
Why does it pay for restaurant owners to work with food bloggers? We have a lot of influence in our communities. People will go to their favorite blogs to find out where to go. I mean, who wants to waste money and a Saturday with friends or a date at a bad restaurant?
Any tips for restaurateurs starting their own Instagram accounts? Don't just post, engage. People buy from people and if there's a warm inviting tone, people will feel welcome and want to join the party.
What, in your mind, is the future of foodie Instagrams and blogs?
I think it's here. I believe we have replaced most media outlets where people get their information for local food.
Jane Ko of @atasteofkoko started her food blog in 2010 when she was finishing up her Bachelor's of Science in Nutrition at the University of Texas at Austin. She started one of the first food blogs in the city at the time. Seven years later, and she's a Visit Austin TX restaurant expert, writes a top food & travel blog at www.atasteofkoko.com, and posts daily Instagram pics of food, such as this one of a poke bowl and vegan artichoke pizza at True Food Kitchen.
Why is documenting food is important? Eating is such an intimate moment. It's not just the food you're eating, but the ambiance you're sitting in, who you're dining with, what kind of conversation you're having, and what your mood is. A photograph helps me capture that moment and remember it for years to come.
How have you developed a working relationship with restaurateurs? I've been food blogging for over seven years now with five years focused on restaurant coverage, so I know most of the restaurant owners in Austin. I am incredibly lucky to have restaurants offer to comp my meals but I do pay for a lot of meals out of pocket.
What is the most important thing a restaurant owner should know about food bloggers? A lot of restaurant owners want to be featured in food blogs and on Instagram accounts but don't know how. A simple friendly email is all it takes! Be patient if we don't come in right away. I've had restaurant owners email me more than 5 times and it took me over a year to come in. We're real people too, with busy schedules!
Any tips for restaurateurs starting their own Instagram accounts? Invest in high-quality food photography - hire a professional food photographer or even just a food blogger.
What is your hashtag strategy? How can a restaurant Instagram replicate your success? I hide my hashtags in the comments so it keeps the Instagram caption clean and clear. Use the hashtags that we bloggers and Instagrammers are using!
Ginny Griffin started @texasfoodgawker in the summer of 2014 to provide a place where people all around Texas could find great restaurant and dish options in their area. She doesn't just cover Austin restaurants; you can also find her in Houston, Dallas, and everywhere in between. She shares information about new pop-up restaurants in Texas, such as Milk Bar in Launderette, lets other foodies share their pictures on her account, and partners with restaurants to offer fun giveaways like the one below.
Why is documenting food is important? I think that documenting food is important because it allows people to try new things. I try to provide a wide range of restaurants in the Texas area so that natives and visitors to Texas can find great food!
How have you developed a working relationship with restaurateurs? Many restaurants and third party hospitality companies reach out to me, inviting me to openings, parties, etc. I feel very honored whenever any restaurant, whether it has a huge fan base or is just starting out, reaches out to me.
What is the most important thing a restaurant owner should know about food bloggers? I think it's important to know it never hurts to reach out to food bloggers. In my opinion, the more publicity for a restaurant, the better.
Why does it pay for restaurant owners to work with food bloggers? I think it can definitely increase the fan/follower base of restaurant if they are posted often on food blogs with a large follower base themselves.
Any tips for restaurateurs starting their own Instagram accounts? Make sure to update your account frequently with new offers/dish options!
Shelby Sorrel has a growing Instagram in Austin, Texas. How she got started? Her love of food. She just started photographing for fun, and suddenly, amassed a following of people who liked her foodie photos. The rest is history! Her Instagram and blog at www.shelbysorrel.com are not only a collection of great places to eat in Austin, but also a list of great destinations to visit, from Blenders and Bowls to Eberly.
What was your most memorable foodie post? The post that is the most memorable to me was my first post at a semi-new restaurant in Austin, Grizzeldas. The food (and cocktails) are beautiful and so easy to photograph, and the space is also completely gorgeous. The plating of the food was flawless, and our server was so fun and helped us position everything in a way that made it look the best. We now request him every time we go there, and the food is picture perfect every time!
How have you developed a working relationship with restaurateurs? It goes both ways for me - sometimes I pay for the food and sometimes the food is comped. Some restaurateurs have reached out to me based on the photos I have previously posted at their restaurants, and offered me the chance to come back for free, and some have reached out solely based on my Instagram account to have me come out for a free meal. PR companies around town will also reach out on behalf of restaurants and host events for media/foodies, which is also a huge way I get involved.
What is the most important thing a restaurant owner should know about food bloggers? We want the same things. As much as you want to create appealing, delicious dishes that will bring people in, we want to post content of said appealing, delicious dishes that will bring people in. Also, if we are waiting to eat the food, it doesn't mean we don't want it or aren't dying to try it - we are just exercising as much self control as possible to get the perfect overhead shot of all the food together.
Why does it pay for restaurant owners to work with food bloggers? Social media, and Instagram in particular, is a phenomenal resource for restaurants. The media in general is very powerful, but when thinking specifically about restaurants, I think Instagram is the best source. Having foodies all over a city post photos of beautiful food that looks yummy, will then make their followers want it as well. In this day and age, people will do things specifically for "the gram," and if a blogger or instagrammer posts a photo of food that looks appealing, their followers will be drawn to go there to get a similar shot (or just to eat it).
Any tips for restaurateurs starting their own Instagram accounts? Use as much natural light as possible when photographing your dishes, and make sure they are plated in a manner that will catch the eye of the Instagram user. I am a big fan of accounts that have a common theme, so if you edit photos in a similar manner and post them all with the same idea in mind, you will be successful.
What, in your mind, is the future of foodie Instagrams and blogs? I think the amount of foodie Instagrams and blogs are only going to increase. Especially in cities like Austin that always have new and different restaurants opening up, there are unlimited opportunities to try delicious food. More and more people are starting to love photography, and food, of course, and with smartphones these days, it's becoming much easier to take a great food photo on the fly (as long as your lunch pals are okay with waiting a little bit to eat).
What are your favorite Austin food bloggers?
If you're from Austin, Texas, what are your favorite food bloggers?
If not, what city do you want to see here next?