6 Things The Most Popular Restaurants Do on Instagram

So, you heard that Instagram was a must for your restaurant, right? Well… almost.

Using your restaurants Instagram the right way is what you really need to do if you want to:

  • Attract new customers
  • Keep your existing customers happy
  • Generate A TON of free promotion for your business

With over 500 million active daily users, there’s a huge audience on Instagram. Many people just waiting to see what you have to offer, so why not show them?

There are many restaurants that are seeing huge success on Instagram but what exactly are they doing to make that success happen?

These six tips will help your restaurant attract new customers through Instagram and keep them coming back!

1. Use Great Photos

People eat with their eyes first. Especially on social media.

They definitely do before they get through the doors of your restaurant.

Even the famous Chef Roble, owner of Streets restaurant in Brooklyn was quoted saying

[bctt tweet=”“people eat with their eyes, so it can’t just taste good it needs to look good too.” – Chef Roblè ” username=”beyondtheeats”]


Did you know that 86% of diners check out a restaurant online before they visit? I know most of my friends do.

Most people will try and get an idea of what they’re in for before they even walk in, which means that you must set their expectations while they’re still online.

The #foodporn hashtag has been used over 137 million times on Instagram, and #instafood over 96 million times, which demonstrates just how much people love to share images of their food.

Now, all your job is, is to give them a reason to share YOURS, it’s probably not as hard as you think.


2. Have an item that people feel they HAVE to share

This one is big. 

It’s easy to see how Instagram has influenced food to look visually striking, there are restaurants that are even making changes to their entire menu to support this new trend.

What can you offer that’s visually spectacular, funny or unusual that people can’t possibly resist photographing, sharing and coming back to brag to friends about? 

Black Tap is a craft burger restaurant in New York City.

They’re known for these big elaborate milkshakes that everyone LOVES to share to Instagram, and there’s a never-ending two-hour wait just to get your hands on one.

Where did the idea come from? Well, it’s simply a reflection of the owners’ childhood nostalgia.

Owner of Black Tap, Joe Isidori, was quoted saying, “As a kid, I grew up in the neighborhoods of New York City, in Brooklyn and Queens, and you’d go to the luncheonette to get a cheeseburger deluxe—a burger with extra American cheese—which always had a milkshake with it. I wanted to recreate that here,”


If you do an Instagram search on their location, it will probably look something like this at any moment…





People are so obsessed with these milkshakes that there’s even a how-to video on making them.

Friendly reminder – their specialty is burgers! Not milkshakes.

They’re so visually appealing that people are satisfied by the experience of the milkshake alone. 

Or how about Sweet Cup Inc. in Garden Grove, California?

They essentially remixed the Choco Taco by adding a colorful shell to it & boom! People are going Instagram crazy.

Here’s what an Instagram search at their location will give you…





Seriously though, how could you not want to share these? It’s just not something you see every day (or at least I don’t, that’s for sure.) 

 3. Make something about the physical location a must share

If it’s not the visually appealing food, it’s something about your location. 

Instagram also helps you to understand your audience; what they like about your food, your restaurant, branding and what attracts people to visit you and share their experiences at your establishment.

This article in the Verge even talks about how Instagram is pushing restaurants to be kitschy, colorful, & irresistible to photographers.


Although a full interior re-design might be out of your reach, there are ways that you can use the settings around your restaurant too.

Is there a cool feature in your spot that constantly comes up in social media posts?

It might not be an everyday thing that people post (yet), but there’s a good chance that you can recognize a small trend or type of post people do while they’re at your establishment already. 

Your job is to simply promote that thing so people follow your lead, whatever it might be.
For Media Noche in San Francisco, their physical “thing” is their white and green tiles, check out some of what people post to Instagram, a lot of it has nothing to do with the food!


View this post on Instagram

Un pastelito, por favor?

A post shared by Fred Weasley (@fredweasleythedoxie) on

instagram1 1

Photo by Josh Rose 

Even lighting in eating spaces is more carefully considered than ever before, with restaurants such as Bellota, in San Francisco, featuring custom lamps with adjustable light settings that allow customers to get the perfect shot for Instagram.

These owners know that the more people that are posting their establishment, the more free promo they get. 


You could be a few Instagram posts away from your establishment becoming a huge trend.

Be sure to mention your special thing often so that your customers are dying to show that they’re physically at your establishment.

4. Use Relevant Hashtags

Spend some time researching relevant local hashtags for your business and use them! 

Posts with at least one hashtag average 12.6% more engagement than posts without.


Focus on finding and using the top local hashtags in your area to entice people who are in your area. 

Find some popular restaurant Instagram pages in your area and look at hashtags that they use, especially if they’re operating in a similar niche as you.

Using food hashtags that are popular in your local area will extend your reach much further than you probably think.

For example, some popular hashtags in the Rhode Island area are #RhodyEats, #HungryRhody, #401Eats, #401foodies, & #PVDeats. 

When I use these on even 1 post, I can see a noticeable difference in the audience I attract. 

There are probably more people clicking and scrolling through these hashtags per day than you probably think.

Also, If they’re looking at hashtags like these, you know they’re somewhere in your vicinity or thinking about visiting soon.

5. Continuously work with people who have a good-sized following on Instagram 

I like to call this the “Gary V influencer method” because of the popular Entrepreneur & owner of Vayner media, Gary Vaynerchuk loves to preach it.

I agree wholeheartedly with this strategy and have seen it work well for many different restaurants myself.  

In this video, he explains it at the 5:30 mark and instructs the woman listening to do this EVERYDAY. It’s worth the time investment.

If you didn’t watch the video for whatever reason, or just prefer text, here’s a summary:

1. Enter your location in the search bar

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2. click the photo of a top person (or a few, just make sure they have a lot of followers)

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3. Send the person a message

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4. You want to decide what’s in this message. The goal is to get people to stop by & experience your restaurant or food truck. 

In Gary’s example, his message says 

“Saw your profile .. come by my truck from 11 am – 2 pm .. and I’ll give you a free BBQ”

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5. Rinse and repeat! 

Gary recommends going with the people who are in the “top posts” section and not the “most recent” section because they could leave that area soon.

You could also do a little more work by looking through profiles to try and get a sense of if they live there or are just visiting. 

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6. From the people you invite, Gary believes 1 out of 10 will actually come

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7. From the first 1 out of 10 people, Gary believes 1 out of those 10 people who come will post it to their Instagram (because you don’t ask them to post it, you should let them do it if they want to)

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I think Gary’s estimates were pretty modest.

I’m confident that if the food is good, that more people will post it than he’s anticipating and has laid out here.

Always remember, just ONE of the right influencers can make your restaurant a hit overnight.


Photo by Ryan Plomp 

6. Mix up your content

With social media, it’s important to keep your content as fresh as your food too.

Mix it up by using a variety of photos, videos, & photos your customer’s post.

After a while, you might notice a pattern that enables you to figure out what type of content resonates best with your followers, or even better, what kind of content attracts more new followers to you.

Ever thought about an Instagram-only promotion where your followers get a discount or a freebie by mentioning your latest Instagram post, or by tagging your restaurant when they visit?

People love to feel exclusive, so why not reward those who share your establishment with something exclusive?

Instagram competitions (follow/like/re-gram for the chance to win a free meal) can also be a great, short-term activity to grow your account more quickly.

If you already have an audience, try using Instagram Live or Stories with some behind the scenes snippets from the kitchen to really get your brand’s personality across.

This can work well to build engagement and brand recognition, as well as to let that audience know what’s going on behind the scenes that helps your restaurant run.

Keep an eye on your engagement levels and what gets the most likes, comments and follows to see if you can work out what the secret sauce to social media success is for your business specifically.

There are plenty of useful tools that you can use to measure and create the right content for you. 

I recommend starting with Adobe SparkAdobe Spark Video, & Canva. They’re apps that you can use on phone or desktop to make great photos & videos of your restaurant.

What’s been the most popular post for your restaurant? Is there anything else that you see work on Instagram?

 Let me know in the comments!

Looking for more tips to help your restaurant stand out on social media?

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