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The Quarterly Canadian Restaurant Intelligence Report

Instagram Helping Restaurants Change the Game


There’s no doubt that social media has changed the face of business in many ways. For Canadian restaurants, Instagram has increasingly become one of the more popular platforms for engaging guests and potential guests on the social stage.

With new and innovative add-ons for businesses such as booking tables while on the app, the platform is helping to facilitate better and deeper engagement. No surprise when you consider Instagram has always been very business-friendly, but for restaurants, especially, Instagram is defining engagement with guests. Not only are customers likely to post images of their experiences and dishes, but a new range of messaging tools and a more business-focused approach on the platform is also helping restaurants to really stand out.

Restaurants Canada’s Kartikey Bhargava, speaks with Instagram COO Marne Levine

According to Instagram COO Marne Levine, a restaurant’s Instagram success is driven by creating a good business profile on the platform. “I highly recommend any restaurant having a business profile. First of all, it helps the restaurant stand out to their customers as being a business. Second, it gives customers a lot of really important information about who that business is,” says Levine.

The Stats That Make Instagram Worthwhile

Use Instagram and you’ll find more than just foodie snaps and videos in your timeline; the platform uses the most popular hashtags for dining and restaurants in the world. For example, according to Instagram, 111.9 million posts have used the hashtag #yummy. And the fourth most followed hashtag with over 250,000 followers is #foodstylist.

Just a decade ago, some high-profile chefs and restaurants scoffed at the idea of taking photos of food. In fact, some actively discouraged diners from doing so. Now, 10 years on, most businesses realize the power of this kind of advertising and marketing. Not only do they want guests to take images and post them, the wide use of Instagram in restaurants has influenced how managers and owners design and light their restaurants and present their food.

Instagram differentiates itself from other social media platforms because of the larger number of users who choose to follow a particular business. With over 200 million active users who visit at least one business per day and 150 million that further engage in conversations with businesses each month, the potential is there for all to take advantage of.

A popular tool today for engaging with users is Instagram “Stories.” Pioneered by rival Snapchat, one-third of users (guests or potential guests) have started a conversation with a business after viewing an Instagram Story. Stories work simply and dynamically. For instance, a restaurateur might create a Story containing images and videos of you serving a particular customer in your restaurant or a longer timeline of the working day of your chef.

The truth is that Instagram has been at the forefront of creating a wide range of business tools that allow restaurants of all kinds to engage with potential guests and raise their profiles.

Create a Business Profile

Research by Ipsos MORI shows that 59 per cent of Canadian consumers say they are inspired by content they see on Instagram and a quarter of them use this platform to decide whether to buy something or not. Setting up a business profile on Instagram is important for any company. It’s a particularly powerful tool for restaurants where the visual side of things is so important and brand development is vital.

Assets such as allowing a user to book a table with the simple click of a button on Instagram are starting to provide an invaluable way to boost business as it is rolled out globally. According to Marne Levine, it’s key to make use of all the tools now available if you want your restaurant business to stand out on Instagram. “Feed, stories, photos, and videos, try out the polling sticker by engaging the community and seeing what they might be interested in and experimenting with those things. Potentially, try IGTV. Give it some time and see what’s going on,” says Levine.

Direct messaging has been developed on the platform over the years and has improved since it was bought out by Facebook. Now you can get inbox management tools with filtering capabilities so that you are able to better manage engagement with customers. New buttons that allow users to book a table or pay for an order means that potential customers can now take direct action without leaving their home.

Twenty-five companies are currently working on or have completed their integration with Instagram and that includes fast food restaurant A&W in Canada.

They ran an Instagram campaign over a period of five weeks to attract new, younger customers to the brand. This involved posting a series of photo ads featuring close-ups of their food which ran concurrently with another campaign on TV. Over the entire campaign, A&W registered a 39 per cent increase in ad recall.

OpenTable, based in San Francisco, used ads in Instagram Stories to help drive online reservations at their restaurants. They were able to reach over 1.5 million people and the campaign delivered one of the best ROIs in their history, producing more bookings at a lower per head cost.

Marne Lavine understands that succeeding on Instagram and other social media isn’t about direct selling, it’s a community.

“It’s how you are in your community and where you live—you wouldn’t go to your neighbour’s house just when you need something. You become friends with your neighbours, you interact with them, and get to know each other. Then, when you need something, you have the relationship that has been built up. I would say I think about the Instagram community a lot like that too.”

Why Instagram is the Complete Restaurant Promotion Package

Don’t underestimate the power of social media. Whether you have a small restaurant or a chain of outlets across Canada, making the most of all the assets at your disposal is vital. Call-to-Action buttons in particular are improving bookings for many businesses across a variety of sectors, including hospitality.

This has changed the way we do business. In the past, where some restaurants tried to ban smartphones from the dining table, they now actively encourage guests to snap away and take videos.

Guest-generated reviews (or user-generated content (UGC)) is a marketing powerhouse, but negative UGC can also do the exact opposite. In any case, it may not have the slick, professionally produced quality of a formal restaurant marketing campaign, but positive UGC resonates far more with today’s consumers. If your restaurant is confident in its brand and the quality of food you produce, embracing Instagram and making use of its growing number of tools and UGC is vital.

In July this year, Instagram launched IGTV that allows you to post videos longer than the usual 60 seconds (in some cases up to an hour). It’s primarily focused on mobile viewing as you might expect, but the possibilities are obvious. It’s also a sign that Instagram’s tool set for businesses is continually being updated.

“We know that people are really interested in entrepreneurial type of stories, and stories about the world of food. What a great and perfect opportunity for somebody like that. It’s [IGTV] in its early days. We’re excited by what we’re seeing and the way people are using it,” says Levine.

What this means is that restaurants need to be able to respond and evolve to new additions and changes in the social media landscape. That’s going to be the really big challenge for small and medium size outfits over the next few years.

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Menu Canada's Foodservice Magazine
The Quarterly Canadian Restaurant Intelligence Report