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By Tiffany Regaudie
Before social media platforms and food influencers existed, word of mouth used to sound something like this:
“You should check out this new pizza shop in my neighborhood. They have the best stuffed crust I’ve ever eaten!”
Today, word of mouth looks a little different. Thanks to social media, restaurant influencer marketing is a rising trend that can play a crucial role in driving diners to your door. In fact, the influencer industry grew from a $1.7 billion market in 2016 to $9.7 billion in 2020, and for every dollar a business spends on influencer marketing, they earn $5.20.
Plus, over 70% of consumers say they are more likely to make a purchase based on a social media referral. This is because referrals are most effective when they come from a person, rather than a company or brand itself. As a result, restaurant influencer marketing and local food influencers have become the perfect tool for swaying customers’ dining decisions.
In this guide to influencer marketing for restaurants, we’ll cover:
Get ready to add some spice to your marketing strategy!
Influencers are people who are so social media-savvy that their follower count has reached 10,000+. These social media celebs and bloggers typically gain popularity through gorgeous photos, personal engagement with audiences, and a commitment to authenticity. In other words, they often only promote products they’re truly jazzed about.
Companies from all industries have recognized the value of saddling up to these social media savants and working with them to scale brand awareness. Food influencers and food bloggers can work wonders for your restaurant marketing strategy, too. After all, foodie culture is blowing up online, and people love drooling over food porn on social media.
So, what do food influencers actually do, and how can they help your restaurant? We’ll dig into five specific ways you can work with them later in this article, but here’s a simple way to think about the process for now. You invite a food influencer to your restaurant for a meal, wow them with a tasty and Insta-worthy experience, and they’ll give your brand a boost when they post or blog about their visit to your restaurant.
If this sounds too good to be true, don’t just take our word for it. Have a look at some of the internet’s best examples of influencer marketing for restaurants.
There’s no question that working with influencers is one of the most impactful restaurant marketing strategies you can try for your business. To give you a better idea of who the top food influencers are and how they work with restaurants, we’ve put together a list of 10 popular food influencer accounts and food bloggers to follow. We recommend doing some research in your local area, too, to help you find homegrown Insta-famous folks.
@candidsbyjo is a London-based photographer. She showcases the global eats she indulges in throughout her travels, transporting her 105k Instagram followers along for the ride with images that capture both food and feeling.
@theeverydayfoodie is a team of influencers and food bloggers based in Toronto with 32k followers. They share colorful and creative food shots and videos from restaurants around this Canadian city and beyond.
@atasteofkoko is Austin, Texas’ top food blogger. She posts whimsical food and lifestyle photos and contests for her readers and 105k Instagram followers to drool over.
@chicagofoodauthority is the brainchild of Sam Roby. Now a community of food influencers with 258k followers, the account features tons of images of delicious treats.
@cheatdayeats is where NYC-based Jessica Hirsch shares indulgent food photos and videos from her travels with her audience of 484k Instagram followers. She’s all about guilt-free dining.
@tastyideas is a duo from Miami with 62k followers. They post behind-the-scenes restaurant video content like how this seafood pasta was made to get their audience craving the food they feature.
@devourpower is the work of couple Greg and Rebecca, who quit their day jobs to savor the best of NYC and share drool-worthy videos and images like this mac and cheese burger (yes, you read that right!) with their 1.5m Instagram followers.
@eatandbefull is Austin, Texas-based Jared Zuckerman’s account of his travels around the city and broader state, where he discovers finger-licking-good dishes like these smoked BBQ ribs to share with his 166k followers.
@lafoodie is run by Ben and Lisa, who showcase the best of the west to their 139k followers, like this shot of a fresh and flavorful Vietnamese soup.
@tooomuchfoood is where NYC-based Morgan Raum curates a digital diary of her self-proclaimed “unsophisticated” palate (think fries smothered in cheese and bacon).
Now that you have an idea of what food influencers and food bloggers are all about, your next step is to learn how to leverage the power of influencer marketing for restaurants – and watch your social engagement skyrocket. Below are five different ways your restaurant can work with the Insta-elite of the food world.
As a savvy business owner, you likely know how valuable reviews are to your restaurant – over 90% of consumers say reviews influence their buying decisions. That’s because confirmation from a fellow customer that they loved their last meal with you carries a lot more weight with potential diners than shameless self-promotion.
To build up your restaurant reviews, you can get started by asking food bloggers and influencers for reviews in exchange for a comped meal or gift card. To ensure your reviews will be on the positive side, try to find someone who’s already enthusiastic about your food to write a review. Food influencers are well aware of the importance of keeping their accounts authentic to who they are, and they’ll rarely post about a product, experience, or meal they didn’t like. So, be sure to whip up a dish that’s worthy of a glowing recommendation.
Wondering what an authentic food influencer review looks like? Here’s an example of a restaurant review from food blogger Truffle and Toast.
Once you’ve determined which food influencers you’d like to woo, invite them to a pre-release party, tasting, or a new menu rollout at your restaurant. For example, let them be the first to try your Canada Day restaurant specials. Keep it intimate: extend the invitation to only a few influencers at a time and make it exclusive.
After you’ve built up a great relationship with a food influencer, you also have the option to hand over the reins to your social media accounts for a “takeover” during an event. A social media takeover is when an influencer steps in to run your account(s) as a real-time content creator. While takeovers require a lot of trust – and most of the time, a contract – they can also give your account a boost because you’ll draw the attention of the people who follow that influencer.
Here’s an example of how an entertainment venue used an Instagram takeover. You can do the same for your restaurant!
The world of influencer marketing is still the wild west in some ways, but many influencers are now represented by agencies. So, depending on who you choose to work with, you may need to provide them with compensation. This could look like hosting a food influencer for a meal at your restaurant and paying them either with money or comped food to create a post about the experience. In other words, their dining experience was “sponsored” by your restaurant.
The FTC requires influencers who are receiving compensation in exchange for a sponsored post to disclose that these posts are advertisements. Influencers will usually use the hashtags #sp, #sponsored, or #ad as sufficient disclosure to their audience.
There are both pros and cons to the sponsored content approach. While you may get more control over what an influencer posts when you pay them to create the content, you could also lose the element of authenticity, which is so crucial to cultivating loyal fans on social media.
Contests are great tools to engage your audience and show them some love. And social media is the perfect place to get the word out about your restaurant giveaway. In fact, businesses gain a whopping 17,500 social media fans on average through contests. This tactic is also an excellent way to attract brand new customers and turn them into regulars.
Teaming up with an influencer to host a giveaway can help you get more mileage for your restaurant contest ideas than you could on your own. Ask an influencer to post about your contest on their social accounts and provide them with quick and easy instructions for how people can enter the giveaway. Make sure they have all the images and information they need to effectively promote your contest, like in this example from @theeverydayfoodie:
Instead of working with a food influencer on a single marketing campaign or a few here and there, give them the opportunity to be an ambassador for your restaurant’s brand and form a long-term partnership.
For example, if your restaurant is known for its healthy lunch fare, consider teaming up with a food blogger whose content focuses on clean eating. The key here is to work with someone whose audience aligns with yours. As part of the partnership, your new ambassador can be involved in everything from making event appearances to having their image on your marketing materials, and of course, creating social media content to help promote your restaurant.
Finding your dream influencer and building a successful relationship with them can seem like a tall order. But don’t worry, there’s some method to all the restaurant Instagram marketing madness.
The good news is that you don’t need to manually sift through your social media feeds to find a food influencer. Platforms like Hootsuite and Sprout Social allow you to track hashtags (you’ll want to do some research on those to determine the most relevant ones for your area and food offerings), view follower counts, and create lists so you can start to plan who you’ll approach with a pitch about your restaurant.
If you have the resources and you’re looking for some professional help, hiring an agency that specializes in influencers is also a great option. Agencies have the knowledge and network to connect you with influencers who match your brand, location, and desired follower count. You may need to put on your negotiation hat for this level of investment, but you can also rest easy knowing the food influencers you’ll be connected with have been vetted by a third party.
Finally, here are a few key questions to ask yourself when hiring or working with an influencer:
Nothing beats a recommendation from a friend – even if you haven’t met that friend IRL. Restaurant influencer marketing is the new word of mouth, and you can use the power of food influencers to level up with one of the most effective marketing tactics of all time.
Tiffany was the Content Marketing Manager at TouchBistro, where she shared knowledge with restaurateurs on how to run their business. She’s passionate about traveling the world and getting to know communities through great food.
By Katherine Pendrill
By Dana Krook
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