Running a successful restaurant was hard enough before COVID-19.
Now, with 80% of restaurants unsure if they can survive COVID-19 even with a strategy shift, restaurant owners need any advantage they can get to stay afloat.
And a solid social media presence has become an essential tool for restaurants to find new customers and strengthen existing customer relationships.
“Being on social media is now another job of mine,” says Jesus Mendoza, Jr., co-owner and head baker of Austin-based vegan eatery Mr. Natural, who uses Facebook to post specials and interact with customers. “Social media is a must right now.”
But how do you do social media well? That is, how do you use social media to effectively promote your restaurant and sustain and grow your business?
Here are four pointers, along with real examples from Austin area restaurants.
1. Post at least once a day to keep customers’ attention
Imagine if you opened your restaurant three days in a row, then closed for four days, then opened for a day before closing for another three days—all without advertising your schedule. Your customers would probably become so confused they would give up. Think of your social media followers the same way.
You don’t need to post the same time of day or the same day of the week every time, but your cadence should be consistent. At least once a day should be enough early on while you find your stride.
While it might be tempting to try to cover every social media platform, from Facebook to TikTok and everything in between, this is probably not feasible for most restaurants—you’re much better off focusing on covering one or two platforms well than covering all of them poorly.
Think about it like your menu: it’s better to offer a few standout entrees rather than 20 dishes your kitchen can sort of make.
You can always expand your social media coverage as you get the hang of it. Whatever you do, you should start with Facebook and Instagram, and branch out from there as necessary.
Toast’s 2019 restaurant industry report found that those two platforms were by the far the top choices for restaurants, so if you want to be seen where your competitors are being seen, that’s where you need to post.
Austin’s Torchy’s Tacos posts on Twitter about once a day, calling out holidays and sharing pictures of their food (Source)
How you can do this: If you take an “it’ll get done when it gets done” approach, it probably won’t get done. You need to designate someone as your social media manager—whether that’s you, one of your assistants, a new position (if you can afford it), or even a volunteer from your staff—with the understanding that they are responsible for consistently posting. If you have the resources, social media automation software can help make this a cinch.
2. Build authority by focusing on an area of expertise
It can be fun to mix things up by posting about sports or pop culture every once in a while, especially if you can tie it into your menu or culture. But your followers aren’t following you for your thoughts on Tiger King. They’re following you because they enjoy your food.
Focus on what you do best—whether that’s smoked barbecue, or vegan recipes, or locally sourced ingredients—and a good rule of thumb is to avoid posting directly about politics or controversial subjects.
Remember the classic mantra of “show, don’t tell.” Why tell your customers that you cook with the freshest produce in the area when you can share pictures of your herb garden?
Follow Black’s BBQ on Instagram and you’ll get nothing but pictures of what they do best: Authentic Texas BBQ (Source)
How you can do this: You shouldn’t ask your head chef to pull out their phone and start posting cooking tips in the middle of the lunch rush. But you could have your social media manager talk to your head chef about their favorite cooking tips during a quiet moment and then they could share those tips on social media.
3. Attach attractive photos to every post to boost engagement
Pics or it didn’t happen. If you’re posting about your food without including mouth-watering photos, you’re missing out on a major opportunity. Why just post about your crab pretzel when you could be including a picture of that bad boy with hot crab dip piled on top of it and perfectly melted cheddar cheese oozing down the sides that will get customers to pick up their phone and order?
For example, when Mr. Natural advertises a new special or delivery box on Facebook, they always include a thoughtfully captured picture of the food.
“Visual is the key,” says owner Jesus Mendoza, Jr. “People can’t see your product if you’re just gonna say ‘I provide this.’”
Statistics back this up. According to Buffer, tweets with images get 89% more favorites and 150% more retweets than those that only include text.
A Facebook post showing one of Mr. Natural’s pastry boxes, including vegan flan, pina colada cinnamon rolls, and more. (Source)
How you can do this: You don’t need a professional food photographer to get great pictures of your best looking menu items. As long as you have a smartphone with a decent camera, the food is thoughtfully arranged on a nice dish, and it’s well lit from the sides, you can take great food photographs. Here are more tips from Shopify on how to make your food look extra sexy.
4. Gain trust and familiarity with your audience by including them in the conversation
Social media is a great way to promote your restaurant, advertise specials, and reach new customers. But it becomes even more valuable when you use it to interact with your audience: starting conversations, answering questions, and strengthening customer relationships.
When it makes sense, end a post with a question, such as asking customers for suggestions, or what their favorite toppings or menu items are. And if someone responds to one of your posts with a reasonable question, answer it promptly and publicly so that it might help other customers with the same question.
This is also a good opportunity to put a human face on your restaurant. The same way you would want your manager to meet customers on the dining room floor to build relationships, your manager should also be greeting customers on social media.
Austin bakery and beer garden Easy Tiger recently connected with customers by partnering with Camila McConaughey to share their sourdough bread recipe. (Source)
How you can do this: Don’t ask questions just to check a box, ask questions that you genuinely want answers to. By doing this, you can be more engaging and get valuable customer feedback. For example, if you’re on the fence between two new items to add to your menu, ask your customers on social media what they think!
Amplify your social media outreach with software
Social media software makes it easier for restaurants and other businesses to post content and updates across channels, interact with the online audience, track the success of social media outreach through analytics, and more.
Check out our social media software buyers guide for more information.
There are about as many tips on social media strategy as there are items on the Cheesecake Factory menu. We’d love to hear your tips! Share them with us at @softwareadvice.