It’s free, it’s fun and (for now) it’s friendly. Instagram is an easy and enjoyable way for you to promote your food and beverage offering. Danielle Bowling spoke to three operators using the social media platform to their advantage.
A picture says a thousand words. People eat with their eyes. These cringe-worthy clichs are over-used for a reason: they’re true, and perhaps no more relevant than in the foodservice industry, where people judge your offering in an instant.
Restaurateurs have a range of social media platforms to consider when deciding how to promote their business. Facebook is great for sharing news, photos, event updates and building communities; Twitter is probably less valuable for restaurants and cafes, but still an effective way to learn about what’s going on in the industry and keep others up-to-date on what’s happening in your establishment. Of course there’s also Pinterest and YouTube and then a whole heap of other, less relevant platforms including LinkedIn and Google Plus (was that ever really a thing??)
But the platform offering perhaps the biggest opportunity for restaurants and cafes is Instagram, a photo- and video-sharing social networking service. It’s the most visual of them all, and is a favourite amongst food-loving consumers all over the world.
Modern day marketing
Darren Robertson, co-owner and chef at Three Blue Ducks in Sydney’s Bronte and The Farm by Three Blue Ducks, which opened in Byron Bay earlier this year, says Instagram represents a valuable marketing opportunity for foodservice businesses.
"It’s a great way to get a message or information to potential guests, locals or regulars. It also gives people a chance to do the same. They can tag us, leave comments, leave feedback, ask questions, or all of the above,” he says.
Unsurprisingly, Three Blue Ducks and The Farm post pictures of food and menu specials, but also of producers and staff members because Robertson has noticed that the public is genuinely interested in the people behind the businesses.
People, places and of course food is featured on the Three Blue Ducks' Instagram account.
“[When we were launching The Farm] we documented what we were doing and I think it helped in cultivating interest. We were posting stuff since the day we first went there, when there was nothing. It cultivated interest without us having to shout it from the rooftops.”
The Three Blue Ducks Instagram page has almost 19,000 followers, with both the Sydney and Byron Bay venues sharing the one account. Despite the growth of the page, Robertson doesn’t feel the need to hand over complete responsibility to a marketing professional.
“I think you can tell when it’s a third party [posting photos],” he says. “We have someone that will post weekly, and then we fill in the gaps. We’ve got an outsource advising us, just because a few of us have access to Instagram, and if you just bombard it I think people will get a bit put-off by it. But we have someone orchestrating our feed, so it’s still organic and used by us, but there are rules now.”
One of these rules is to not clog up users’ feeds. “I think you can over-do it. If you continuously bombard someone’s feed, that’s not ideal.
“There’s definitely a balance. I think when you are just using it to sell stuff all the time and shove stuff down people’s throats, they can see past that now. If you’re continuously plugging your place I think people get bored of it and see straight through it.
The Town Mouse team have a 'less is more' approach to Instagram
Less is more
Despite having an impressive 6,600-strong Instagram following, The Town Mouse in Carlton, Melbourne, posts a photo, on average, once a month.
“We try to put up good photography and we try not to do it too often,” says co-owner Christian McCabe. “I know a lot of social media strategies say that you should do one post a day or one post or week, or you should connect with this many people over this amount of time for it to be effective, but I see it in a different way. If I’m constantly seeing things from a place in my feed, it’s like I’ve seen enough and I don’t need to go there. So we don’t do it very often and I feel that’s more effective for us.”
McCabe agrees with Robertson that the “softly softly” approach works best.
“Instagram is good because you can just put up an image and it shows something, without it being the whole experience …it suits us well because the way that we try to promote the business is to create interest and intrigue around it, rather than tell people exactly what it’s all about. I think it’s a more powerful message … with a business like our’s, sometimes too much interaction and too much of a conversation outside of the restaurant is counter-productive.”
In regards to what posts work best, McCabe says food shots tend to outperform photos of wine, but The Town Mouse also shares photos of its producers and suppliers, images of the restaurant itself, and perhaps a job ad or two when appropriate.
“We’ve got a couple of professional photos, but most of them we just take on our phones. We don’t use filters or anything, we just try to get somebody that knows how to take a good photo. For each photo that goes up, there might be 10 that got taken to get the right one, but it’s got to look nice,” he says. “There’s no point making a nice looking plate of food and then posting a crappy looking photo of it.”
More than meets the eye
Last year, Sydney institution, the Grounds of Alexandria was the sixth most Instagrammed place in Australia. With almost 80,000 followers, the popular caf concept takes its social media very seriously. Where some restaurants and cafes simply point, shoot and post, The Grounds labours over each and every shot taken.
“We have a photographer that’s hired by The Grounds and we do photo shoots every week,” says Rebecca Fanning, senior marketing executive. “We decide what we want to do, then our photographer and stylist will go take those photos, and they probably have hundreds of photos that they choose, and out of those that they’ve culled down, they’ll pick, say the top 10.
“Because we have a huge bank of images which we can use, nothing is 100 percent in real time, so it is very much a process of we style the shot, shoot it and maybe a few days later we put it up … One photo could take three hours to get right.”
Sweet treats always perform well on social media.
Instagram worthy shots at The Grounds range from pictures of the pastry chefs’ latest creations, floral arrangements created by the caf’s on-site florist, coffee, cocktails, weddings hosted on-site, The Grounds’ resident pig, lamb or pony … the list goes on.
With such an extensive offering on-site (a caf, a bar, outdoor markets, events, yoga classes, coffee classes, a bakery, a garden….) part of The Grounds’ social media strategy is to educate potential diners about the different arms of the business.
“Trying to tell the difference between our spaces is a huge thing as well. We get a lot of enquiries from people wanting to book at the caf, and if we’re booked out we’ll suggest The Potting Shed (the bar), but sometimes they don’t know what The Potting Shed is. So it’s about trying to convey that message, but not in a marketing sense; we’re not trying to sell them the space. On a Friday night we’ll post an image of a cocktail or a cocktail and some food, just to get people in the mindframe that they can come here on a Friday night and have drinks and some food and relax in a bar-style setting.”
One picture may take three hours to get right, says Rebecca Fanning, senior marketing executive at The Grounds.
Despite the general assumption that photos on Instragram are published in real-time, Fanning says many restaurants take the time to ensure the photos they’re sharing are not only high quality, but are also in-line with the business’ goals and the tone or voice that it wants to portray online.
“If you see a place like Bennelong (Peter Gilmore’s new venue at the Opera House), their photos aren’t in real-time either. You can tell they’re taking the time and focusing on the images because they’ve got to convey a certain message as well. They’re not fly by the night, just taking a photo here and there and posting it on Instagram, that’s not how it works for them either. It’s very curated. As we are, they’re trying to portray a certain image. We put all this time and effort into what we do, and if you’re doing that then you should definitely be showing that to the people that want to know.
“The foodie scene is growing so much; people want to see this sort of stuff, why wouldn’t you show them?”