If the thought of running an empty restaurant makes you weak at your knees, you’re not alone.
Competition is fierce, so attracting new diners and keeping them happy and coming back feels like a steep, yet recurring, task.
The feel of failure is justified: as many as 59% of hospitality facilities fail in a period of three years.
And you don’t want to be one of them.
So you jump into every marketing strategy you can. Traditional print marketing, showing up at local events, Google ads, local marketing and SEO, and even Facebook ads for your restaurant.
Even if you saw success, you still want something that feels sustainable, something with a more long-term effect.
That something is a modern version of word of mouth marketing: influencer marketing.
As many as 74% of consumers identified word of mouth as the key influencer in their purchasing decisions. Pair that with the explosion of influencer marketing, and you have an entire new opportunity to explore for your restaurant.
This guide outlined five steps to do so and quickly get started (no matter how intimidating it may feel).
Step 1: Select your influencer marketing channels
The visual element of any restaurant marketing sets a clear tone for all of your influencer collaborations: images and videos take priority over any non-visual content, and this drives the channel selection.
Even when the goal of the content is to deliver a restaurant review, a recipe, or a story behind it, visual will still drive key engagement.
It’s natural: people want to see what the food looks like, what’s the restaurant atmosphere, the size of the meal, and much more.
(If I’m honest, I’d also often love to smell the food through the photos and videos because the better it looks, the more I wish it was right in front of me!)
So which channels can you focus on?
Instagram is an obvious and most frequently mentioned one as the foodie social platform. People are attracted by full-width images and find each other through hashtags, which creates plenty of opportunity for food influencers—and restaurants who want to connect with them.
Even though it’s one of the largest platforms right now (crossing one billion monthly active users in 2018), it still allows for plenty of specificity and niche accounts.
With specific food hashtags from #plantbaseddiet to #koreanramen, there truly is an influencer for you no matter the food you focus on.
Pinterest is the go-to channel to get inspired on anything from DIY to fashion, travel, and even entrepreneurship. Food is no exception.
With Pinterest, your goal might be to connect with an influencer who then features you in a restaurant guide on their blog, which they then promote to their Pinterest audience.
From generic best restaurants in [city] guides through to tips on Instagrammable restaurants, brunch places, rooftop bars, and much more, there’s room for your restaurant to be featured and seen by hundreds of potential—and relevant—diners.
Similarly to Pinterest content, using YouTube as an influencer marketing channel means you will most likely benefit the most by being featured in a restaurant guide for your city or a similar content format.
Just like all influencer marketing, you’ll end up with the best results if you cultivate genuine relationships with your influencers and focus on those whose personality and style align with yours.
An ideal scenario is partnering with influencers who have a strong presence on more than one of these visual platforms—although even just one is great to start with.
Step 2: Focus on location and niche
When looking for influencers to partner with to market your restaurant, there are several categories of criteria you should consider.
This is important not only for your restaurant, but also for the health of your relationship with the influencer and for their level of happiness in their experience working with you.
Reach local diners with location-specific influencers
It sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s worth listing as the first item to check off on your list of traits of a good potential influencer.
It’s also not an obviously simple thing to do—here’s an example why.
Let’s say you’re a restaurant in Toronto, Canada, and you decide to partner with influencers from Toronto who you’ve been seeing on Instagram and YouTube for a long time now.
You pick one that posts great imagery, attracts plenty of likes and comments, and focuses on a mix of topics including travel, DIY, and food.
Her food-related Instagram posts seem to gain good traction, and she posts about food about once a week.
But then, upon further research, you realized that about 80% of her posts altogether are focused outside of Toronto for her travels and other projects.
A Toronto-based food or restaurant images only happen once a month.
If you engaged this influencer and suggested she does three Instagram posts about your restaurant, it will look and feel out-of-place to her followers, and it might not bring you the footfall and traction you hoped for.
When searching for your influencers, look into their focus and ensure their audience is local to you. Check out the locations of photos they post and the engagement they get compared to non-location specific ones.
If an influencer can impact a location-specific community, chances are they’re a great person to work with!
You might be wondering… What about influential travel bloggers?
If you see an opportunity to work with a travel blogger who will be in your area rather than someone local, don’t dismiss it right away.
In this case, however, keep in mind that people who follow this influencer might be saving their recommendations for their future travels, so the return on investment when working with such influencer might be delayed—but still impactful.
Make sure your brand and messaging align with the influencer, and vice versa
Don’t fall for the huge numbers like following and views if all other signs point to a mismatch between you and the influencer.
If you’re a steakhouse, but they promote vegan lifestyle, the influencer campaign will end with a lot of angry people.
If you usually attract families and professional couples to your restaurant, but the influencer’s audience is mostly made of college students, you’ll end up disappointed.
And if your restaurant’s vibe is upbeat with a constant buzz, but the influencer’s content is usually chill and low-key, the campaign will feel off—and you might end up attracting the wrong crowd.
Determine where your restaurant fits into influencer’s content
As you learn more about the influencers you’re researching and get a better feeling of the content they frequently create and share, start brainstorming where and how you would fit into it organically.
Here are some formats and topic groups they may be using:
- Restaurant reviews
- Food tours
- Best things to do in a city
- Bucket lists
- Experiencing world cuisines
- Specific food groups or meals (snacks, brunch, happy hours, seafood…)
The list goes on. Understanding influencer’s preferred formats and areas where you fit in will help you reach out to them in a more thoughtful way and show them you care about their style, audience, and integrity when recommending a business to their followers.
Step 3: Get to know your influencers well (and avoid disasters)
This might feel like a skippable step, but spending time to get to know people you hope to end up working with—both online and in-person—is essential.
It will enable you to work with people you genuinely get along with, who believe in the quality of the food you serve, and carry a strong work ethic.
In other words, it will save you from an influencer marketing disaster—and there have been many of those in recent years.
Getting to know them and tracking their online activity over a period of time will help you weed out influencers who:
- Don’t care about your restaurant’s brand
- Don’t take their relationships seriously
- Don’t disclose their sponsorships in posts
- Take on too many sponsorships
…and so on.
What does this mean for you? It means you should be open and transparent every time you reach out to a potential influencer.
And with the local nature of your restaurant business, spending some time face-to-face with them by inviting them to dinner might result in a long-term relationship that can help you grow side by side.
As a result, your influencers will create unique content rather than repeating each other and annoying people around the same location who keep seeing the same content.
Step 4: Identify their role
Once you’ve gotten to know your influencer better and feel confident they’re the right person to partner with, it’s time to define the scope of their work for your restaurant.
This will depend based on the topics and formats you’ve identified in step 2 when you looked for the best fit for you in their content.
Here are some roles your influencer can take on for promoting your restaurant:
- Posting an Instagram post with a single or multiple photos from your restaurant
- Posting multiple Instagram posts staggered over a defined timespan
- Posting one or more Instagram stories on their account
- Posting Instagram stories on your account (a takeover)
- Going live on their account from your restaurant, showing the food, the bar, or anything else you’d like to spotlight
- Including your restaurant in a blog post with other relevant companies (travel or foodie tips, for example)
- Writing a blog post that only focuses on you (review-style)
- Including your restaurant in a YouTube video
- Including your restaurant in an infographic they share on Pinterest
You can use single ideas from this list, combine a few, or come up with new ones that fit your restaurant and the influencer the best.
Look for inspiration from other restaurants, as well as influencers, across different locations. Take note of content styles and the engagement these posts have received.
Step 5: Define their compensation
The final step is the one no one wants to talk about: how much do you pay an influencer for their work?
There’s no universal answer, and there likely never will be. Each influencer, industry, and case is unique, and even companies working with same influencers will see a range of results.
Influencer payment is tricky because you can’t know for sure what the return is going to be.
A general rule of thumb is that smaller influencers and those just starting out will agree to a free meal for them and their friends or family in exchange for their promotion of your restaurant.
Influencers with larger followings will typically have a predefined rate card they use for brand deals, and you should respect that.
There is likely an area in between those defined groups where influencers’ rates vary quite a lot, and you’ll also find those that are open to negotiations and adjusting to your budget by fine-tuning the scope of their work.
Platforms like Influence.co curate lists of influencers that you can filter through various tags and locations. By looking at influencers listed under Restaurants, you can view their profiles and see their starting rate per post.
Some are as low as $15 while others go up to $150 and over per post. Remember, you’re looking for an influencer that can genuinely engage a local foodie audience, so the number of followers might be less relevant than the type of content they post.
Take action before competitor restaurants do
That’s it. No more procrastination.
You now know why it pays off to build connections with influencers who care about their audience—especially with those whose audience is in locations relevant to your restaurant.
Once you’ve built up your restaurant’s social strategy, start reaching out to influencers who feel like a fit with your passion for great food and enjoyable dining experiences.
Remember to take inspiration from other cities and even countries and see what worked for other restaurants and influencers. Then, launch your restaurant’s influencer campaign, and enjoy the results!