How to Use Influencer Marketing for Your Restaurant

8 out of 10 restaurants shut down within 18 months of launch. There are so many variables in the restaurant business. However, we’ve all seen the scenario where there’s two very similar restaurants in close proximity to each other and one of them always seems to be significantly more busy than the other. What’s one thing the other restaurant probably lacks? What does it take to be an exceptional restaurant?

I believe the answer to these questions is simple: word-of-mouth marketing

What does word-of-mouth look like these days?

Yup, it’s referrals on social media, typically by people you look up to for advice like influencers. For example, the screenshot above is by an influencer page on Instagram that was paid for by a breakfast restaurant called Chromium in Chicago. As you can see by the comments, people seem very interested.

Influencers are people that have achieved a large following on social media by posting videos or photos that interest a certain demographic and by remaining authentic to their audience over time.

You may have already heard about this thing called influencer marketing by now and are wondering how you can use it your advantage. Well, that’s exactly what I’m going to cover today: the step-by-step process in implementing influencer marketing for your restaurant.

1. Choose Your Weapon

In the beginning, when you don’t have much money to spend, your influencer marketing needs to be precise. You don’t want to just throw money at the wall and see if it sticks.

Choose one social media platform that will best convey your brand to people and stick to it. For the most part, you can never go wrong with either Instagram or YouTube in the food space.

If you’re a restaurant with dishes that look mesmerizing and fall into the category of #foodporn, then you should probably consider Instagram with aesthetics being the sole reason.

However, if your restaurant or food company has more of a personality and requires some demonstration, then maybe YouTube is a more suitable option. It really all depends on your overall branding strategy.

Prime example of food porn

Here’s are two great restaurants/brands killing it on these platforms:

Instagram: The Shed BBQ

YouTube: Pei Wei

2. Identify Your Goals

Now that you’ve chosen which platform you’re going to focus on. You need to decide what your goal is.

If you want to build a social presence, so that your restaurant becomes a topic of conversation, then you may want to focus on social growth.

Perhaps you already have a semi-large following on your platform of choosing from before, and you’re looking to acquire new customers. Therefore, your goal should be to attract visitors to your restaurant to either book a reservation or simply walk in.

Keep in mind, social growth is the byproduct of influencer marketing anyways. You can always create a strategy that includes both of your goals. For example, you can have an influencer or food blogger ask their followers to follow your Instagram account, and receive a $10 off coupon on your next visit.

Pro tip: I personally recommend you choose one goal to be most efficient with your spending when just starting out. Tracking results with influencer marketing is hard enough, you don’t want to make it harder on yourself.

3. Find Your Ideal Customer

Once you’ve identified your goals, it’s time to pinpoint your ideal customer. You want to spend some time figuring out the customers that rave about your restaurant and end up writing you that wonderful 5-star review.

Perhaps, it’s a woman in her mid-50s with a love for Italian food. Maybe it’s a college student who just loves ordering from your place after a night of clubbing. Whoever it may be, it’s important to create your customer persona.

This is an example of a customer persona. Credit: hueandtonecreative.com

There are several ways you can do this. Go through some of your reviews, and see if you can spot a pattern of the type of people reviewing. Perhaps, start asking your customers what brought them in. Do a series of polls on your Instagram or Facebook page to get more data.

Pro tip: When talking to influencers, make sure to ask them about their demographics. You want to align your customer persona to their average viewer or follower.

4. Select the Influencers

Once you’ve crafted an ideal customer persona, it’s time to choose the influencers.

This can be the trickiest part. Especially, if you’re not working with an agency that can send you a list of influencers based on your demographics and location. There are platforms like Famebit or Grapevine that can help make the process faster, especially if you’re looking for influencers in more of a broader category. However, when first starting out, you want to pinpoint influencers with an audience that live in the same cities as your restaurant(s).

I do encourage restaurant owners to try searching on their own. It can be a long process, especially if you’re not in a popular city like Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, etc. However, it will be fruitful in the end.

You can always start by searching the city of where your restaurant is located on platforms like YouTube or Instagram. Write down or make a note of the accounts that are directly related to your city with the average views or likes of each account.

Here are a few examples of searches I would do on YouTube or Instagram:

  1. [City] + Food
  2. [City] + Restaurant
  3. My Favorite Restaurant in [City]
  4. Best Places to Eat in [City]
  5. [Food Type] in [City]
  6. What to do in [City]

Start by going after the food-related accounts because that will be your core demographic: foodies, looking for great new places to eat and try food.

Here are some Instagram accounts in some popular cities to get you started:

Phoenix: @BestFoodPhoenix

Los Angeles: @LosAngelesFoodScene

Chicago: @ChicagoFoodAuthority

New York: @NewYorkFoodies

Now, if these accounts list an email in their bio or about page, then that means they are open to inquiries. This means you can probably get in touch with them and make a proposition.

You don’t always have to start with food-related accounts. Finding an influencer who vlogs his daily life around Scottsdale, AZ could be just as effective. It all goes back to your goals and the personality you are trying to show.

What do you do if your restaurant is not in a popular city?

If you’re restaurant is not in a popular city, you’ve tried searching for influencers, and are not having any luck, then here’s some advice. Try searching for local businesses (preferably those you’re not directly competing with) that are killing it on the social platforms and see if you can do some type of collaboration on their account. Talk to the kids in your city (they know all), and see if there is a particular person with thousands of followers that you can connect with that lives in the same city as you. With the advent of social media, influencers are everywhere.

However, if you still can’t find any. Test the market by working with a larger influencer that has an audience that closely resembles the customer persona you created. For example: VagaBrothers is a channel where two brothers travel the world and vlog their experiences.

You can integrate your restaurant on their channel with a video that talks about the Best [Food Type] in [City].

Chances are a percentage of their audience have heard about your town. If they haven’t you can acquire them as followers, which is an invitation to having your restaurant become a part of their daily conversations. Despite them not living in your town or country, they can always tell their friends who might be visiting for a few days to check your restaurant out.

5. Craft a Proposition

Once you’ve identified the influencers, you need entice them. If you’re on a shoe-string budget, sometimes, it’s as simple as letting them know you love their content and would love to gift them a free dinner. Many times, they’ll say yes to this and post about your restaurant in return. It’s the law of reciprocity.

It’s the law of reciprocity.

If you’re worried they may not post about your restaurant when gifting them a free dinner, perhaps introduce yourself when they come in, and let them know that you would love if they could feature your restaurant. An in-person ask may work better and comes across as more genuine. This would be considered more of an informal ask, whereby a contract may not be necessary.

Here is when you will need a contract in place:

If you have a larger budget and are working with the larger influencers (150k+ followers), then you may want to send them an email with your exact intention. Ask them for their rate in the e-mail. Once you get a response with a rate, start your negotiations. Let them know you’re new to influencer marketing and would love to create a long-term relationship. Let them know your a new business, if you are.

Once you have both agreed to the terms, send a contract or agreement with the terms listed and when the influencer is expected to post. You want to be as detailed as possible in the agreement. For example, you want to list the length of time that they must keep your link or your social platform’s handle on their bio/description, the proper FTC disclosures, when the payment will be made, your brand’s guidelines, reasons for cancellations, etc.

If this seems a bit daunting, perhaps consider hiring an agency to do this for you.

Pro Tip: Ask the influencer for a successful promotion they did in the past for a similar restaurant. This way you can get some ideas and see the potential impact of working with this influencer compared to the next.

6. Launch the Campaign

Leave the creative process to the influencer, especially if that’s not your department or if you’re not working with an agency. For the most part, influencers truly know the best way to integrate your brand into their ecosystem. They know their audience better than anyone.

Ask the influencer for their strategic plan. Run that plan by a marketing person if you have one in your circle. If not, I would just make sure the vision and the deliverables align with your goals. If you still would like a second opinion, feel free to tweet at me or send an email.

Choose a date to have the influencer come and dine in at your restaurant. Deliver an outstanding experience (who knows, they may recommend it to their other influencer friends). Thank them for their time.

Decide on a date that they plan to post on their Instagram or YouTube. Give yourself plenty of time to prepare for the traffic, especially in the case of a larger influencer that can drive more traffic. Have a plan to measure the results.

7. Measure the Results

Once the campaign is live, start seeing how it’s performing. Are people commenting about your restaurant? Are you getting new followers? Is your website seeing an increase in visitors? Are new customers coming in?

Take a look at the comments, to see the interest this post generated for this Froyo place in NYC.

If you’re going to have the influencer post your restaurant website on their bio or description, make sure you have a tracking link in place. This will help you gauge the interest and response of the campaign. If you’re giving out a discount, make sure it’s specific to the campaign, so you can track the results.

Remember, data is king. Using the data from your first campaign will ultimately help you get even better results with your next.

Depending on your goal, the rate of which results come in may differ. Sometimes the results come in fast. However, if they don’t, it’s nothing to worry about. You may not notice a new customer that week or maybe even in that month, but someone that searches for that video sometime that year may walk in directly due to that campaign. Be patient.

Regardless, you’ve just introduced your restaurant to hundreds if not thousands of people. Any one of your new followers may come in to your restaurant a month from then, or even a year from then.

Thats it!

Make sure to have fun with this entire process. It’s always a great idea to test new channels. Social media is a channel that has proved to be very profitable. Influencer marketing is an easy way to jumpstart your social media profiles and allow your restaurant or brand to be a part of the daily conversation.

Let me know if you have questions on the process!


About Yogin

Yogin Patel is an advertising executive. He is the founder of YPSocial, a influencer marketing agency that primarily works with mobile apps, some that have over 100M downloads.

From working with A-list celebrities and brands with revenues approaching $200mm/year, Yogin understands the digital advertising and product placement world very well. He’s always looking for ways to efficiently integrate the latest ad-tech into his UA campaigns for his Clients.

You can connect with him on the following platforms:

Twitter: @TheYoginPatel

LinkedIn: @YoginP