It’s never a bad time to reach new audiences from a fresh perspective, and social media is the best way to do that, whether your restaurant is new or 110 years old. Now is the perfect time to reconnect with longtime fans and introduce yourself to potential new diners.
“Social media is essential today,” says Chef Eric Ripert of New York’s Le Bernardin. “We have a direct relationship with someone with an interest in what we do, almost like a direct connection with a potential customer.”
Even if you’re not super tech savvy, chefs and restaurants can be hugely successful on social media. Why? These platforms are perfect for creative expression—plus, who doesn’t like looking at beautiful images of food or staying in touch with their favorite restaurant?
There are some caveats to keep in mind before ramping up your social media efforts. Though great-looking photos of delicious plates of food speak for themselves, these services are inherently social. So you’ll also want to interact with your followers to get the most out of social media. And remember, these networks require ongoing attention and a consistent stream of content to thrive. Social media success doesn’t happen overnight.
Take a deep breath: You don’t have to master every new platform that comes down the pike. Instead, choose the network(s) that meet your needs. In fact, focusing time on a couple of them—or even just one—is a viable strategy.
Here’s a rundown of the most popular platforms and some basic tips on how to get the most out of your time on social media. (Want to learn even more? Download OpenTable’s comprehensive guide to social media.)
If you’re not sure where to start, start here. Instagram is the #1 social media app for engagement with restaurant brands. Food is the most popular category on the platform. Instagram presents an opportunity for restaurants to connect with people’s passion for food and inspire them to share their experiences.
Have fun with Instagram’s stories feature, which allows you to share posts that will disappear in 24 hours. Stories are an important way to stay active and relevant on the Instagram platform. Using stories, you can ask your followers questions like what menu items they’d like to see as a special. You can also take a poll at the tap of a button–guests will love being involved in your menu building process. Finally, use stories to announce 24-hour offers like a free mini dessert or 20% off any glass of wine. Take a fun picture and encourage guests to beat the clock and come in to enjoy the deal.
In general, people use Facebook as the hub for their social identities. It’s where they go to engage with ideas and content from friends, family, colleagues, communities, and brands. The content you post on Facebook should educate and inform guests or inspire an emotion.
Great food photos can lead directly to new guests. Like Instagram, Facebook is a prime channel for restaurant lovers. In one survey, almost half of respondents said they search Facebook to find restaurants. Facebook’s live streaming video feature allows for unscripted moments like a trip to the market, the arrival of a particularly exciting seasonal ingredient, or just having fun with your bar or front-of-house staff. Remember, your fans want to hear from you! Engage them by posting two to three times per week.
Twitter serves users a stream of news and real-time and event-based content, and people use it to follow accounts that align with their interests. It’s a perfect platform to connect with people around shared passions–like food. In fact, Twitter users have higher engagement with restaurants than all other industries on the platform. Content posted on Twitter often taps into trending topics and serves as an announcement forum for restaurants. It’s also a great way to communicate directly with guests. The least visual of all the platforms, Twitter can be a good fit for you if you don’t love taking photos.
Snapchat allows users to send and receive photos or videos that disappear after a certain period of time. It’s like being able to give real-time updates and reveal quick moments from your life, but in image (or video) form.
A quick primer on how to use it: once you sign up, you can add friends, or friends can add you, either via searching your username or snapping your Snapcode (more on Snapcodes in a second). To take a snap, press down on the circular button on the center (like you are taking a photo); to take a video, just hold down on that same button until you are done recording. You can embellish your Snapchat with a caption, plus various features like lenses (fun images placed over people’s faces) or geo-filters (designed, location-based tags).
The learning curve may take a little longer than some of the older platforms, but it’s an effective way to reach a particular audience. Because they’re so fleeting, posts on Snapchat are a great way to experiment with creating new types of content.
This is one of the newest and fastest-growing social media platforms out there. Started in 2016, this video-based social media network is smaller than the major names in social media for now, but using it is a highly targeted way to reach Gen Z consumers (ages 6 to 24). TikTok’s strength is helping users discover new people and brands via its algorithm-powered “For You” suggestions. In other words, it can help young new guests find you.
And once you’ve picked the social media channels that are right for you, here are some tips to help you succeed no matter which apps you’re using.
Brand new to social media? Here’s a crash course on starting from a blank slate:
As a practical matter, all relevant information about your business should be easily accessible on your social media profile pages—that includes hours of operation, location, menus, and services offered. Why risk a customer leaving your page to find additional information and getting distracted? After interacting with you online, potential guests should not only know what you do but also what separates you from your competition.
If there’s a golden rule of social media, this is it. Words are important, but great photos equal success. You don’t need a professional photographer, but put some creative thought into images of composed dishes or other brand-specific images. Here’s some top-level advice: pay attention to light and shadows. Make sure images are in focus. Thankfully, phone cameras have become really good, so capturing well-focused images is easier than ever. Don’t post anything that’s too blurry, too dim, or just unappetizing.
People love getting that peek behind the curtain of how restaurants work—Snapchat and the stories feature on Facebook and Instagram are the perfect way to share these glimpses. You can give your fans a look backstage into the food prep area or in the kitchen. You can use it to profile employees. Diners want to know you’re having as much fun in the kitchen as they are in the dining room.
Have a particular brand that you love using? Do you have a superfan with a sizable following? Give that company or person access to your social media account for the day, and let them take your users behind-the-scenes in their operations. If it’s a cheese company, maybe it’s a tour of the farm; if it’s wine, maybe it’s a tutorial on grape varietals. Takeovers are especially popular on Instagram. Get creative!
On the platforms that support it, use relevant hashtags to tap into conversations and help food lovers find you. Some popular food hashtags are: #Food, #Foodporn, #Foodie, #Instafood, #Foodgasm, #Foodstagram, #Foodpics, #Yummy, #Delicious, and #Foodlover. Participate in trending conversations via hashtags to increase reach and attract new followers. There’s one caveat here: Make sure these conversations are in line with your brand, so it doesn’t feel like a stretch.
Established restaurants can use social to create news events the same way a new restaurant does. You can promote specials, anniversaries, new menus, new dining room changes, a new staff member—anything! “It’s basically like having your own magazine,” says Ripert. “We now have a massive audience of followers who receive news directly from us.”
You’ve grown your following by doing what works best for you. Now’s a great time to push the boundaries and try new things to see how people respond. Stick to your strategy here, but don’t be afraid to get creative or take inspiration from others who do it well.“We use social media the exact same way we were using appearances on TV or articles in a magazine or newspaper,” says Ripert. “It’s just an extra element to promote the fact that we exist.”