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How social media is changing for restaurants

Posted by Donald Burns on Feb 9, 2017 9:30:00 AM
Donald Burns

Unless you live in a cave or on a deserted island, you would have seen the impact social media has had upon the world. For the independent restaurant it has become the dragon slayer you can use to market against the big brands. You do not need a multi-million-dollar budget to be effective on social media. However, you do need to be smart, clever, and have a game plan.

Too many restaurants just randomly post on social media thinking that is what social media marketing is all about. It’s not that easy. You need to have a few pieces in place if you want to be able to market against the Chipotles of the industry.

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Model others

If you want to save yourself some heartache about social media marketing, the best thing to do is to model the businesses that are getting results. Take a look at some of the restaurants in your market that are getting big numbers, and really dig deep into what they are doing and do something similar. But that does not mean imitate. It means you should look below the surface.

What emotional triggers are they employing? At the heart of it, marketing is really all about triggering emotions. Understand that and you’ll open up a door to more likes, shares and comments. People want to be moved to action. If you’re putting up the same boring posts about your daily lunch or dinner feature, you will just get lost among the thousands of other restaurants in your market doing the same thing every day. You need to go beyond the hunger emotion.

“Your restaurant cannot be everything to everyone. Being in a specific niche is the ideal. Dominating that niche is your goal!” 
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Jennifer Smith, the account director at Restaurant Social+, says “Tapping into different emotions is vital to successful social media marketing for restaurants. You need to have a palate of emotions to tap into. Think of it like seasoning for a recipe. You don't just rely on salt and pepper for every recipe. Sometimes you need to throw in some saffron and cayenne!”

Many restaurants play the humor card, and for some brands that is a good one to play. Look closer at your market profile (otherwise known as your avatar) to uncover more emotional triggers.

“Your avatar is an exercise where you dig deep to create an imaginary character who buys your product,” says Smith. “The more detailed you can be about the ideal person you want to attract to your business, the more effective your social media will be.”

Now your restaurant might have a primary avatar and you’ll have secondary ones as well. The main thing you have to realize is that your restaurant cannot be everything to everyone. That is a recipe for failure. It’s better to be something to someone. Being in a specific niche is the ideal. Dominating that niche is your goal!

Understand the hierarchy

There is always a hierarchy to social dynamics. It’s the way of the world. Social media is no different because not all social media posts are created equal in the eyes of your fans. Know what your guests want and give them more of what they want (not what you think they want), and you’ll unlock key number two to social media success.

The Written Word

Plain posts with text and nothing else sit at the bottom of the hierarchy. When social media first started, this was about the only thing you had. However, times are changing and while words can still be powerful, they are usually looked over.

Even Facebook realized this and has a new feature that makes short word posts (35 characters or less) much bigger than normal text. Facebook calls this feature “dynamic text” and it will draw attention back to simple word posts. It’s kind of a challenge to get your point across in just 35 characters.


They say a picture is worth a thousand words. That is true if it’s the right picture that reinforces the message. Make sure the pictures you post trigger emotion or show emotional elements. Pictures of your food are great if well done. But sadly, too many restaurants post pictures of their food that are less than desirable. Some of the best pictures you can post are of your guests having an amazing time at your establishment. Nothing sends a message like a photo of people having fun.

"Be accessible on social media. Be real. Be funny. Be an authority. Be iconic. Be human." 
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Also, go behind the scenes and give your online fans a look at the culinary team in action during service. People love a look “behind the curtain” to see the edge of the restaurant industry so boasted about in famous books like Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential. When you do post pictures like this, try using a black and white filter to really enhance the tone.

Pictures with Words

The next level up is to place text over your photos. Happy Birthday, Happy Anniversary, or even the name of the dish goes a long way to boost a normal picture and get more views. People have become a little lazy when reading posts and this helps them make a faster decision about whether or not they want to read further.


Aww, the GIF (or graphics interchange format file). Unless you are still hiding in that cave we spoke about earlier, you would have seen these. Simply put, they are pictures that move. If you think a picture is good, sometimes a GIF is better. Even Apple has made using GIFs easier by allowing you to search and add one in iMessage.

Food GIF example.gif

You might love them or you might hate them. But here’s the thing: millennials really like them. Why? Because they connect to a way we're wired to communicate – nonverbally. Research has shown that 55% of how we communicate is not verbal. GIFs make that happen. You say you're excited about your new dessert menu? Add a GIF of a girl jumping up and down and now they’ll get the emotion behind the words. That's powerful.


If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video is worth a million! Now that most people own a smartphone, anyone can post videos online. Before you would have had to hire a crew to come in, record and edit your video for online consumption. Now, you just hit the button, record, and share!

Video is a massive tool for leveling the playing field against big chain restaurants. If you are creative and daring enough you can create a video for your brand that has the chance to go viral. How powerful would it be to capture a once in a lifetime event like a couple getting engaged in your restaurant? How about shooting a video of the chef at the local farmer’s market talking about the incredible produce?

Sadly, video is not used by a lot of restaurants to get their message out to their market. But if you want your brand to dominate and not just compete, then you need to post more videos.

Live Feeds

Welcome to the new era on social media. Live stream videos are the next best thing to having your own private TV channel. Restaurants really need to embrace this format, which is popular on Facebook and Instagram. It allows your guests a chance to share an event with you. You could stream a cooking demo or showcase a cooking class. Or walk them through a catering set up so they can see all the details that go into a world-class event. How about taking them behind the scenes at your next menu-planning meeting with the culinary team?

Social media was created to share our lives with each other and the closer we can connect with our guests, the closer they will feel to our brand. Video might be like holding a four of aces, but a live stream is like holding a royal flush!

Know that the demographics are changing

When social media came out, most people were very selective about what they posted. They would only share pictures that made them look their best. We went from collectors of memories to sharing in the moment.

Today, social media posts are much more spontaneous. Millennials will share random short videos on Snapchat of their breakfast, or use a filter to give themselves dog ears and a tongue. Social media is changing for sure and we as an industry must make adjustments to change with it. We need to speak social media in the way that our guests communicate.

That means dropping the façade and becoming real. Tapping into human emotions and letting people know the faces behind our brand.

Be accessible. Be real. Stand up for a cause. Support a charity. Be proud of your team. Be a member of your community. Be funny. Be an authority. Be iconic. Be human.


Did you enjoy this article? Share it with your friends on Facebook! Or start our course now on Social media for hospitality businesses with Sam Mutimer.


Donald Burns.png Donald Burns is The Restaurant Coach™. He is a leading authority, speaker, and international coach on how restaurant owners, operators and culinary professionals go from just good to becoming outstanding. His mission: Build your brand. Increase your profits. Strengthen your team.


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Topics: Hospitality marketing, Restaurants