A fresh order of quesadillas, the crisp scarlet tablecloth, upbeat music playing in the background … and a patron, standing on a chair to take the perfect Instagram picture.
With the proliferation of photo-sharing apps like Instagram, such a sight has become a common scene at restaurants, drastically impacting how restaurants operate, market themselves and even serve customers. As Instagram continues to flourish, serving over 400 million active users, restaurants are presented with a surge of user-generated content—and a plethora of opportunity.
Despite the constant evolution of dining trends (cronuts, anyone?), the food industry has historically been slow to adapt to technology. A few years back, there was a movement to ban cell phones from restaurants to reshift guests’ focus to meals and the dining experience, eliminating the distractions of texting, apps and the mobile web. Ultimately, these hurdles were overcome when restaurants realized the value of mobile devices, with some restaurants even adopting text-to-order functionalities. In this next iteration of innovation, photo-sharing technology brings unique advantages and positive change to the restaurant industry, forever changing the way brands engage with new and existing customers.
Pics, Or It Didn’t Happen
Delicious food is often inherently visual so restaurants and Instagram often go hand-in-hand, used to showcase a brand’s best dishes and highlight memorable dining experiences. Restaurants are riding the #instafood wave by taking advantage of the inspiring—and free—content their customers are rapidly creating. By embracing UGC, restaurateurs can showcase the emotional side of the dining experience and spur ongoing loyalty. Instead of relying on stiff stock content, these authentic, user-generated images will better engage prospective customers and provide them with genuine content that will help them visualize their dining experience.
By regramming consumers’ drool-worthy photos, restaurants both big and small can feel confident in the quality and presentation of their food, service and atmosphere. Hole-in-the-wall restaurants and food trucks are gaining recognition for quality and presentation while better known restaurants are receiving validation from their fans for their expert plating or atmosphere. Without a doubt Instagram and other UGC apps have become a win-win for those that are dedicated to delivering unique and visually captivating food experiences. Moreover, as Instagram becomes more embedded in the dining experience, individual restaurants can start to use their patrons’ content to promote on their own website and beyond to showcase seasonal dishes, customer favorites and more. While there’s comfort in ordering your favorite dishes again and again, fan photos can also inspire customers to try new offerings, boosting traffic and expanding guests’ palates.
An Informed Dining Experience
Platforms like Instagram have opened a new avenue of conversation and customer feedback, giving restaurants a greater understanding of what guests desire. By reviewing UGC, restaurants can get an accurate sense of their most popular items—and be clued into dishes that aren’t as visually appealing.
These “visual reviews” can be as impactful as commentary posted to websites like GrubHub, Yelp and Seamless, putting a stamp of approval on favorite dishes while sharing quality images. Beyond capturing menu items, consumer-generated posts help capture the full dining ambiance. Whether posts showcase staff members or table decor, these images add a splash of personality to a company’s story while highlighting the elements customers find most intriguing about the dining experience.
Restaurants should proactively display branded Instagram hashtags on their menus and throughout venues to encourage diners to share their experiences. Brands can then create a “digital menu” on their site using this content to give prospective diners an inside peek at the meals that await them. When a guest hashtags an image, ask for their permission to include the content within digital galleries. Showcasing user-generated images shows guests that you value and appreciate their business while adding a burst of authenticity to marketing fodder.
Creative Contests and Campaigns
Through the prowess of UGC, Instagram is changing the game for restaurants and foodies alike. Regramming aside, many brands have adopted innovative ways to engage fans across Instagram and drive additional engagement. IHOP, for example, recently held a digital eating contest, inviting fans to upload photos of their empty pancake dishes on Instagram to win a prize. Not only did the campaign drive in-store traffic, it also generated an abundance of earned content to utilize in future marketing initiatives.
During Coachella, Sonic also embraced its creative juices by designing a milkshake specifically for Instagram, revamping its traditional milkshake into a gourmet-inspired dessert showcased in a photo-worthy square container. Sonic’s Square Shakes are the first shakes created with social media in mind and in turn, the campaign successfully boosted Sonic’s digital engagement while contributing something unique to the Instagram platform.
Brands looking to boost their own digital persona should seek inspiration from these efforts and devise meaningful ways to connect with customers both on- and offline because, as the old adage says, a picture’s worth a thousand words.