With more than 500 million users, Instagram is quickly becoming one of the top social networks for brands to showcase visual content and engage users. By 2017, 71% of companies with 100 employees or more will use Instagram for marketing, and restaurants should be no exception. Social media is truly revolutionizing the dining experience.

Instagram helps restaurants engage guests with user-generated content, new menu items, incentives, and more. Feast their eyes first, and their bellies will follow.

Let’s take a look at some tips for driving engagement on Instagram:

 

Tap Into User-Generated Content

With the rise of foodie culture, there’s already a wealth of user-generated images at restaurants’ fingertips. Diners come in, take photographs of the food to share on Instagram, and all restaurants need to do is repost and give credit to the customer.

Buvette in New York City takes advantage of user generated content by regramming one user’s photograph of a breakfast dish:

Regram @thefancyfoodie

A photo posted by BuvetteNYC (@buvettenyc) on

This tactic works for two reasons. First, it takes some pressure off the restaurant to create unique content for their account. Even better, it showcases loyal customers and encourages future sharing.

 

Use Geotags & Hashtags

Creating unique geotags and hashtags is another way for restaurants to engage with new users. These tags can make it easier for restaurants to find user-generated content. They also make it easier for future customers to search for and find a restaurant on Instagram.

For example, a user searching for #restaurants in #Portland would find a restaurant’s account more easily if those hashtags are included in the restaurant’s posts. Including geotags will also help nearby users looking for restaurants in their area find a specific account.

Stumptown Coffee Roasters uses the branded hashtag #dogsofstumptown to encourage users to snap and share pictures of their furry friends while enjoying a coffee break:

Positively 8th street. Nice ? by @aguynamedpatrick. #dailycortado #dogsofstumptown

A photo posted by Stumptown Coffee Roasters (@stumptowncoffee) on

Hashtags and geotags are a great way to get users excited about a restaurant and encourage them to share more images from their experience.

 

Showcase New Menu Items

Restaurants can also use Instagram to show off brand-new menu items or cocktails, enticing new and existing customers to come in for a visit.

Dominique Ansel Bakery, made famous by the Cronut®, shares each month’s new flavor on their Instagram account.

This simple promotion tactic is very effective at getting people in the door of a business. The National Restaurant Association suggests promoting new dinner items around 5 p.m., when people are leaving work and starting to think about dinner. For brunch items, restaurants can try weekend mornings.

 

Give a Behind-the-Scenes Sneak Peek

Instagram is a great platform for giving users a sense of what goes on behind the scenes at a restaurant.

Nicole Franzen, a food and lifestyle photographer in Brooklyn, says “People use Instagram to get closer to a person, so they like to see behind-the-scenes photos…In the past 10 years, cooking has become so popular that [chefs] are treated like rock stars.”

As a bonus, a sneak peak into restaurant service can boost customer trust.

Ken Oringer’s and Jamie Bissonnette’s Boston tapas restaurant, Toro, shows a chef having fun in the kitchen on its Instagram account:

The key is to provide users with a little variety – potential customers also want to see photos of people enjoying cocktails, hanging out at the bar, and attending special events to get a sense of the restaurant’s ambiance.

This shot from Leo’s Oyster Bar in San Francisco gives users a taste of the restaurant’s tropical, sunny dining room:

 

Offer Incentives

Social platforms are a great place to showcase promotions, giveaways, discounts, events, and competitions that encourage more customers to visit a restaurant.

For example, Pinkberry offered users a giveaway to promote one of their new products, the “Pinkbee’s Honeycomb Drizzle” ice cream cone. Users were asked to tag their sweetest friend and write a few words about why they deserved a free gift card. With more than 75 comments and 700 likes, one simple post helped to spread word of mouth about their new product and hopefully brought a few new customers into one of their stores.

 

Follow Photography Rules

When posting Instagram content for your restaurant, it’s important to post quality images regularly, and share them across all social networks. Pay attention to classic food photography best practices, like shooting plates from above. Boundary Road’s “above the plate” pictures, for example, showcase the importance of quality imagery:

Nation’s Restaurant News also suggests staying away from blues. Instead, restaurants should incorporate dishes with warmer hues, which get better engagement.

 

Final Thoughts

With the right strategy, Instagram has huge potential to better engage customers, encourage them to visit a restaurant, and ultimately boost customer loyalty.

How does your restaurant take advantage of Instagram?