Whether fine dining or greasy spoon; the restaurant scene shouldn’t cut itself loose from the bountiful benefits of social media. While you may think Facebook and Instagram are reserved for fashion brands and boutique hotels, it is actually a smorgasbord of buzzing bright opportunity for those in the food hospitality business.

It’s a long-standing joke that social media audiences love to post pictures of their meals – eye rolls aside, this is amazing news for restaurants as you already have all the ingredients of food porn hashtags, a built-in following of culinary connoisseurs, and the very best platforms for showcasing your style.

Savvy restaurant owners shouldn’t put social media as a side dish when it comes to laying the table for their business. A brand image, a place to promote divine deals, and a platform for introducing your menu, staff and sublime vision – social media is one of the best gifts blooming businesses can get.

The trick is building an effective plan and knowing how to utilize the platforms to get the best ROI. Keep scrolling through our glorious guide on how to create a restaurant marketing plan.

Know Your Diners Like You Know your Food

Before you build an effective restaurant marketing plan you need to know who you are constructing content for. Learning how to recognize and reach your market is essential when building a consistent brand voice.

Having a consistent brand voice, even in the restaurant scene, is a vital component of nurturing trust in your visitors. In the world of commerce and an abundance of choice, customers don’t want to be confused by businesses with schizophrenic personalities.

They want to take one look at your brand image and understand who you are appealing to and whether your image aligns with their values. For this to be successful – you need to know exactly who your restaurant appeals to. Forbes also has a great piece on how you can ask questions to build your brand voice.

Tracking Down your Target Audience

Someone who is used to silver suppers and caviar probably won’t be a consistent customer for the fast food industry, and someone who doesn’t have a high disposable income probably won’t be frequenting champagne and oyster bars. Once you know who your target audience is – you can work out the best methods for targeting them.

Most restaurants will have already considered who they are trying to appeal to, so some of this legwork will be done. Otherwise, restaurant owners can find out who is supping with them – simply by getting into the dining room.

Encouraging Active Conversations

Dedicate some time to actively conversing with your clientele so you can start to fill in the gaps. Asking your diners for five minutes of their time in exchange for a free glass of wine is a tiny investment that allows you to reap large rewards.

Asking your customers a few questions about their experience at your restaurant, whether they are returning customers, whether they are local, how they found you and what they liked and disliked delivers a wealth of information to work with. Be sure to ask which social media platforms they use before saying farewell. Finally, this is also a great chance for you to collect email addresses to start building an email marketing list.

Sitting with your customers for five minutes can take a lot of the guesswork out of building a restaurant marketing plan that is going to connect with your target audience, it gives you the foundations and framework to start getting creative.

Picking the Perfect Platform for Your Palate

Each social media platform brings something different to the table and the trick is to pick the one that will add the most value to your content marketing plan. If you have communicated with your customers then you should have a good idea as to which platforms people are using.

The best business platforms are both Instagram and Facebook.

Fabulous Fun on Facebook

Restaurants should set up a business Facebook page as it’s a great way to advertise in your local area and offers ample chances for sharing deals, reaching a wider audience, and obtaining reviews. Facebook is also an amazing platform for interacting with your customers as you can directly reply to their comments and queries, invite them to tag you in their photos, and also boost your reach by easily creating contests.

Restaurants who want to weave paid advertising into their organic reach can also use Facebooks sponsored listings to target potential customers within the local area.

Innovative Ideas on Instagram

Instagram is one of the best platforms for anyone in the foodie business as our article points out here. As Instagram is a highly visual social platform – it gives you all the space you need to upload drool-worthy images of your chef creations. Beautiful filters can lift images to heady new heights, hashtags can be perfectly utilized to direct followers to your door, and sophisticated use of Instagram stories can turn your restaurant into a living breathing brand.

Tantalizing Talk on Twitter

Twitter is another swift and easy social platform that doesn’t take a great deal of planning and can be used to widen your net. A short snippet of text, a link and an image are all you need to get your tweets up and off the ground.

These three major social media platforms don’t take much monetary investment, but they do take time. There is an art to using Instagram and Facebook especially for those looking to stand out from the crowd. Bringing in a social media expert or content writer can help restaurants to make a splash.

Stiff Competition; Research to Make Your Plan More Effective

The Trailblazers have gone before you – that is the joy of social media. Like any savvy business owner; checking out the competition is an amazingly simple way of helping to construct your own plan. Spend a couple of hours perusing the World Wide Web, checking out restaurants both big and small to get a feel for what others are doing.

The more time you spend on this section of the plan, the more creative sparks are sure to fly. Perhaps you love those stunning uploads of food shots from the mezze restaurant down the road, or maybe getting in the kitchen and filming the chef for your Instagram story is something worth considering – just like the Michelin starred restaurants are doing, or maybe influencer marketing is the way forward. Check out our post on influencer marketing in the restaurant industry here.

Checking out the competition not only allows you to see what works, but it also gives you insight into what doesn’t work especially when you go into competitive research with a critical eye.

Making a List and Checking it Twice

Take it right back to basics and make a list of the things you love and the things you don’t. At the end of the session, you will have a clearer picture of the direction you want your restaurant marketing plan to go in.

Remember a good social strategy combines content; when browsing the competition make a list of their content ideas that fall into the different categories. From inspirational posts to information, compelling images to tongue in cheek tweets, behind the scenes glimpses and audience participation. Also, make a note of how promotional posts are worked into the content as this can be one of the most delicate balancing acts you need to consider.

Get Everyone Talking at the Table; Maximizing Engagement

Now that you have all the ingredients lined up its time to get creative and start brainstorming a load of content ideas that could work well. Restaurants have some great elements at their fingertips to build their strategy around.

Food Glorious Food

The food itself is a great starting point – as we mentioned everyone loves a good bright food photo on the gram. Make sure that the food shots you take are bright and beautiful or in line with whatever brand voice or angle you are choosing to take. Great food shots also come from above so don’t be afraid to stand on the table for your downwards point and shoot. Restaurants with killer cocktail menus, cool craft beers, and even frothy whipped coffees can also include these in the shots.

Simply take a look at the Tasty brand if you want to see how successful food orientated posts can be. The Buzzfeed brand relied heavily on video content to build their audience using quick clips to show chefs whipping up stunning dishes. Some of these posts went on to be shared over 5 million times and others had over 200 million likes. For such a simple idea the success was astronomical. Newswhip has some handy tips to help your food videos go viral.

Seasonal Delights

When it comes to curating content for social media you want to make sure you are keeping timely and relevant. For example; if it’s sweltering thirty degrees outside then post pics of iced-coffees and fruit sorbets. When throwing down a list of ideas for content, be sure to take a look at your calendar and work in those popular holidays and national events.

Starbucks is a good example of a food industry player who works seasonal inspiration into their social campaigns. One only has to think of autumn before the image of a pumpkin spiced latte springs to mind. Sweet Green is another brand that captures the changing of the seasons. The restaurant places a huge emphasis on locally grown food and seasonal produce as part of their identity and this is worked wonderfully into their content marketing plan.

The Growers Journey

You don’t even need to post pics solely of the final product – fresh ingredient lists, menu pics, and even farmers markets or wherever you pick up the food makes for a great interactive photo journey that will engage your diners.

Take a look at the brand Pizza Pilgrims for an innovative glimpse into how far you can take the idea of the grower’s journey. The brand curated a ton of beautiful storytelling rich content when the two brothers behind the brand took a pilgrimage across Italy to unravel the original roots of pizza. This campaign added amazing authenticity to the brand, captured many inspiring moments, and delivered a social media persona that was easy for customers to get behind when seeking out an alternative to bland big pizza chain brands.

User-Generated Content

A great way of keeping engagement levels high when it comes to a social media plan is to make sure you have plenty of posts that are inclusive to customers. Pictures capturing customers dining at your restaurant, resharing user-generated content, and even posts containing questions, conversation starters and queries are all great ways of enticing your audience to the table.

Applebee’s is a brand that does a great job of encouraging user-generated content in their restaurant marketing plan. The restaurant invited their diners to upload their own photos of the restaurant and will share the best ones on their Instagram feed. With the growing trend of so-called food porn photos, Applebee’s cleverly tapped into this desire people have for shooting stunning shots of food and used this to their advantage. The brand gained over 4500 new followers from this campaign and their engagement rates shot through the roof.  

Behind the Scenes

Restaurants are team places and another content angle you can work into your plan is creating posts around your staff and around your chef. Insta story is a great place for sharing snapshots of how your chefs work their magic.

Even away from visual based content, you have the chance to conduct interviews, behind the scenes info, and share tidbits of information which all will work wonders in making your brand seem so much more human. When customers are able to engage with the human element of a brand, it fosters trust and loyalty.

Community Matters

Restaurants who get involved with the community and play on their geography also crack open a whole new other conversation that can certainly be utilized in a great content marketing plan. Restaurant owners can be sensitive and savvy by hosting events or supporting local charities. If you are in a high tourist area, you can also add a touristic angle to your content by showcasing area highlights. Smartbrief has some thoughts on how charitable giving can help restaurants forge connections in their community. Read about it here.

A Sprinkling of Promo

Promotional posts can also be played with, although remember – a delicate approach is required. Consider promotional posts to be the seasoning of a dish rather than the base ingredient. Sprinkling a few promotional elements throughout will keep your restaurant brand at the forefront of a customers mind in a way that doesn’t alienate. No-one likes to be ‘sold to’ so while sharing special deals and events is encouraged, make sure you aren’t oversaturating your content plan with endless self-interest posts.

Timely Choices to Drive Traffic and Turn Browsing into Bookings

Working out how often and when to post is your next step in piecing together your social media marketing plan. This can be the point where plenty of restaurant owners get over excited and set up unrealistic goals and promises to post every day.

Consistency is Key

It’s essential to stay consistent when it comes to your social media posts. Remember the golden rule about building trust in your audience is consistency. A consistent brand voice and a consistent schedule breeds comfort and shows that you are a brand that can be trusted. Therefore, it’s better to dip your toes in the water and build your schedule slowly before plunging right in.

Be realistic in your goal setting when it comes to your social media posts. Even if you start by sharing one or two Instagram pictures a week and a couple of Facebook posts, as long as you commit to doing this every week and monitoring engagement then you have a great starting point to build on.

Timely Tweets, Posts and Pics

Part of working out your schedule for tweeting and sharing is knowing when your customers are engaged in social media. Posting an hour or so before popular mealtimes will also work wonders for restaurants looking to draw in a local crowd. For example; people will start experiencing rumbling stomachs around 11 am and this could be a great time to swoop in and share that mouthwatering image of your lunch special.

Keep posts in line with your opening times too, for example – don’t go sharing images of handcrafted cocktails at 9 am if you don’t throw open your doors until 7 pm as you run the risk of a missed opportunity.

This can be where hiring a social media specialist can be a worthwhile investment. Unless you are poised to read algorithms and know instinctively when a great time to post is, then an expert in the business can make sure that you are getting the highest reach with a timely post schedule. Take a look at this piece from Coschedule on how often and when to post.

Listen to Feedback and Learn to Garnish your Social Media

With your research done, your social media calendar pieced together, and your posts all lined up and scheduled you are good to go. But the journey doesn’t stop there. Another essential aspect when it comes to a restaurant marketing plan is to make sure you are taking the time to reflect on engagement stats and feedback. Single Grain has some tricks, tips and hacks to help you read your stats.

Reading the Stats

Rather than just ploughing ahead all guns blazing, put some time aside at the end of each week to consider which posts and images earned the most comments, likes and shares. That great thing about social media platforms is that the information is all there for you, there is no need for guesswork. You will know if your audience loved that post because they will engage with it.

Knowing which posts and images are connecting with your audience will help you to evolve your content plan so that you keep picking posts and images that actively engage with your customers. It’s a natural evolution.

Take a look at fast food chain McDonald’s as an example of a business that used social media to evolve with their millennial market. Many of the concerns and bad press around the brand came down to concerns over their ingredients.

Rather than sweep the problematic turn things were taking under the carpet, the brand used this feedback to directly influence their next campaign. The McDonalds transparency campaign followed, which actively showcased where the company got their ingredients and what efforts went into their food preparation.  

Evolve and Grow

Collecting stats not only shows you which posts are the most engaging and which roads you should be taking, but it also helps you to work out when posts are garnering the most interaction. If your midnight posts are getting ignored but your morning waffle posts are getting reshared, then perhaps your target audience is up at the crack of dawn and in bed by 10 pm.

Boosting the Back and Forth

Along with monitoring your stats you also want to dedicate some time to nurturing customer engagement. The double-edged sword of having your restaurant on social media is that there is less a filter for negative feedback.

If someone is unhappy with the service they will share on social media and a clever business person will have to stay on the ball to keep things from spiralling out of control. Take some time each week to ensure that comments have been replied too, questions have been answered and negative reviews have been ironed out.

If you want to learn more about how to manage negative reviews on your social media then this link from Business Know-How has some good tips.

A Final Bite

Restaurants who don’t put the time and energy into social media are missing a huge trick. Free advertising, the chance to shine with storytelling, and endless ongoing opportunities to connect with customers, you couldn’t dream of a better setup for evolving your business. By crafting content, being active and consistent, and carving time out to consider and review what works and what doesn’t, you can make the most of social media and help your restaurant marketing plan to bloom.

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