How to Make Your Restaurant Insta-Famous

By Andrea Victory

A person taking a photo of food with their phone

All it takes is a touch of sunshine, a funky floor tile, a set of manicured nails and a beautifully presented dish and you’ve got yourself an image that will make mouths water and imaginations swoon. But do you have the audience?

In the history of dining, word of mouth has always been the best way to fill seats. In today’s digital age, word of mouth has expanded to include online conversations. The best way for restaurateurs to catch the ears of hungry diners? Tap into the power of influencers.

To find out exactly what the process looks like, we sat down with food influencer Anna, known to the food scene as @food.diva, to get the inside scoop.

When you arrive on her Instagram page, you’re greeted by strawberry meringue nests and tea, spring inspired rainbow macaroons, and her favorite, the matcha latte. It looks like something out of a coffee table book. The photos are never of half-eaten burgers or haphazardly disorganized plates typical of the average Joe Instagram user, but artful, clean culinary portraits, which are as aesthetically pleasing as they are mouth watering. “I post a lot of my favorite things,” says Anna. “I love mocha lattes and I have a really big sweet tooth.”

In our conversation, it became very clear that authenticity and retaining her posting style was very important to Anna. Indeed, her style is what enticed 20,000+ followers to follow, like, comment, and indulge in the fare she features. Ironically, when we spoke with the food.diva, we were pleasantly surprised she was not a diva at all, but a warm, well-thought out and considerate social media user, with a great eye for food photography, a passion for small restaurants and start-ups, and of course, delicious food. Best of all, for restaurateurs, she’s genuinely invested in helping restaurants get off the ground.

This is why Anna doesn’t post about big corporations or multi-chain restaurants, like Chipotle or Pizza Hut. “Everyone knows those places,” she tells me. “I want to talk about the places where my followers will be like, ‘Oh, I didn’t even know this place was down the street from my house’ or, ‘Oh, I didn’t know they serve ice cream.’”

This kind of genuine endorsement is the best kind of promotion an up and coming restaurant could have, which is why more and more restaurants are approaching social media influencers to help get people in the door. But how do you get someone like Anna to come in? And when you do, what are the best ways to capitalize on her visit?

Here’s what we found out:

TouchBistro: How exactly do restaurants get in touch with you? Is it luck of the draw that you happen upon their door? Or is it coordinated?

Food.Diva: There are a few relationships involved but typically restaurant owners will contact me through my agent or through an Instagram direct message.

TB: Oh! An agent! That’s interesting. Was there a reason you got an agent?

FD: I’m so busy with my full-time corporate job that for a while I was missing opportunities simply because I couldn’t reply to the emails in time. Before my agent, I might reply but then I’d struggle to have enough time to gather information from the restaurant owner to do the right thing for them and to know what they expect of me.  

So, I signed with my agent so that he can take care of the organizing and manage the relationships for me – and I can do more of the eating.

TB: I can image how tough the balancing act must be, especially given your popularity and the fact you have a full time career. How do restaurant managers get in touch with your agent?

FD: His email address is in my Instagram bio, so restaurants will send an email there and he’ll reply saying that he represents me through, which is the influencer company.

He’ll then gather the necessary information for a successful campaign by asking questions like: What does the restaurant want to get out of our partnership? For example, “How many photos do you expect?” or “Is there going to be an exchange of money, gift cards, or a free meal?”

Then of course, he’ll ask why they’re inviting me. Is the invitation for an event or an opening of a new venue? He works out the details so that everyone leaves happy and feels like they’ve got a good deal. Then he sends over the invitation and details to me and asks me if I’d be interested.

TB: Can you decline invitations?

FD: Yes, of course. I’m not obligated to say yes to anything. It’s still my page, my style, my taste buds. If I’m not interested in a restaurant, I can just say, thank you so kindly but nope, not for me. And I pass it on. This way, I keep my page my own.

TB: Do restaurants have to go through your agent to get in touch with you? Or is there another way?

FD: The other way of contacting me is through Instagram direct message. Some restaurant owners look up the email address and see that 4249 is an agency. For numerous reasons, they might prefer not to go through an agency, so they take a shot at direct messaging me with an invitation – something like “Lunch is on us!”

TB: Is there a benefit to going through the agency rather than messaging you directly?

FD: The response time will be much better. Some influencers can manage the entire thing on their own, but with work it’s not something I can do. Another benefit for restaurants that reach out to the agency is that they might end up finding an influencer better fit for their offering because the agent refers them. On the other end, he introduces me to opportunities I would have never had access to otherwise.

TB: So how does compensation work? Are you compensated? Or do you just receive a free meal?

FD: I’d say there is no compensation involved for about 70% of my posts. It might be because I’m not as strict as some of the other influencers. Some won’t do a project unless there’s compensation involved. But overall, there’s usually some sort of exchange whether there’s food or a gift card.

TB: Is there ever a situation where you would post critically?

FD: If something ever rubbed me the wrong way, I just wouldn’t post about it. Especially when it comes to food, in my mind everyone has a different palate and different expectations of pay, service and portion size. I’m the type of person who would never post something negative. I watched another foodie post a negative review and followed along the some 800 comments and thought, wow, if all those people planned on visiting this restaurant and are now not going to go, you’ve literally caused that business to close their doors. I think that everyone is entitled to have a bad day and everyone deserves a second chance… or maybe it’s not the restaurant, it’s just your palate. I only post positive, good experiences that I’ve really enjoyed.

TB: Has there ever been a situation where you wouldn’t post?

FD: There are some really positive experiences that I’ve had that haven’t resulted in a post.

The first reason why I wouldn’t post would be because of bad lighting. Sometimes the photos just don’t turn out. Most foodies use their cellphone so unless you’re a serious photographer, you don’t come equipped with lighting. Thus, there has to be reasonable lighting for us. It can’t be pitch black with candles or else the food looks terrible, which is such a shame because the experience might have been extremely positive. On some occasions, if the lighting is bad but I had a great time, I’ll go back to the restaurant during the day to retake photos to give justice to the experience.

The second reason is that sometimes you’re invited to a great event and you want to post but someone’s taken a bite before you could take the photo so you’d only get pictures that are blurry or partly eaten.

TB: How should restaurants solve these issues and make it easy for you to get better quality photos?

FD: Some restaurants set up a table just for the foodies that no one else will touch. It remains out the whole night, with an array of props like extra forks and knifes, so we can take photos.

This way, we’re free to eat our meals right away, warm, and really enjoy it fresh off the plate, without having to worry about taking photos of it. It makes the experience stress free for us. We don’t have to bother anyone else at the event. Plus, we can move the prop food over to a cool tile or a windowsill that will make for a better, more creative image.

TB: Are there any restaurants you’ve attended that have stood out in your mind?

FD: Pusateri Fine Foods – a gourmet specialty grocery store – had a media evening and a social media campaign that was really well planned out. They contacted us to let us know they were opening ahead of time. Then, they set out an evening only for media and foodies. They closed the place so we could roam the entire grocery store, and ask any questions. They had a really beautiful dinner set up, where the chef would tell us all the specifics about the dishes we were eating.

In addition to all these efforts, they also had a contest, so if you used the contest hashtag, you were entered into a draw for a one-year grocery draw where you could win a $150 of groceries every month for a year and we promoted it. They covered a lot of different layers so all the foodies were interested in something.

TB: Is there any additional insider information you can give restaurant owners to help them make the most of your relationship?

FD: Foodies, influencers and bloggers kind of have a community. We see each other at other events and we’ve formed some really close friendships. I talk to other foodies weekly! So it’s nice to give influencers a plus one. While you might think we’d bring a friend, what really happens is that one foodie will talk to another foodie, and if they weren’t invited to the event, we’ll bring them.

Then the next time I’m invited and someone else wasn’t, I’ll take them and vice versa. This way the restaurant also gets more coverage and photos than they thought they would.

The restaurants that are really smart when inviting foodies will choose their top three foodies and then they’ll go through their pictures and see who’s tagged so they know for sure the foodies will have a nice dinner with people they already know.

There you have it, the inside scoop.

To make it easy for you to remember here’s a list of key takeaways:

  • Choose an approach to contact your choice influencer: direct message them on Instagram or use the contact email in their bio.
  • Know what you’re willing to offer: compensation, gift card or a free meal.
  • Have a multifaceted marketing campaign set out in advance: use contests, gift cards and multiple influencers to maximize the reach of your campaign.
  • Be mindful of lighting!
  • Make it easy for the foodies: have a table of photogenic food, while also imparting them with the true experience of your restaurant.
  • Provide the influencer with a plus one: no one likes to dine alone + foodies run together!

Photo of Andrea Victory
by Andrea Victory

Andrea was a Content Marketing Specialist and Editor at TouchBistro where she wrote about restaurant and dining trends, restaurant management, and food culture. A self-affirmed food geek, Andrea devours cookbooks and food blogs. She also knows how to make a killer kale salad.

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