Restaurants: Who should I be following on Instagram?

Everybody talks about who follows you on Instagram. That dreaded follower number.  But did you know that who YOU follow on Instagram is just as important?

We have a tendency to follow our competitors and other restaurants.  But guess who you should actually be following?  Your potential customers.  It’s a really simple idea:  Follow your customers, engage with their content, increase your brand awareness, and ultimately get them to come into your restaurant.  But so many of us get caught in comparison game by following other restaurants.

I recommend doing an Instagram follow audit.  If you’re running a business on Instagram, then you need to treat it like a business.  Your feed shouldn’t be filled with friends from high school or irrelevant accounts.  And you shouldn’t be following thousands of accounts.  Keep it to 1,000 or less.  Any more than that looks spammy and doesn’t allow you to truly engage with the accounts in your feed.

While it’s okay to follow a few personal friends and a competitor here and there, the majority of who you follow should fall into the following categories:

1. Your ideal customers (55%)

Start following your target customer.  Who is the type of person who goes to your restaurant? Do they enjoy fine dining? Are they a sports fan? Do they live in the same neighborhood as your restaurant?

Find your ideal customer by following local hashtags they might be using, such as #nycfoodie or #edibledc.

Search for recent posts in your geographical area.  Find posts that might have been posted by an ideal client.  For example, did they take a photo of food and post it to Instagram?  Did they go to a local hockey game and you have sports bar?  They might be a great person to follow, regardless of how many followers they have.  They could be a potential customer and Instagram is this incredible place that allows you to communicate directly with a potential customer and where they can communicate directly with you.

Take advantage of it.

2. Local media (25%)

Start following local magazines, newspapers, and other online media, such as blogs and influencers.

Beyond following a magazine or newspaper’s home account, make sure to follow the specific editors that cover your niche.  Take the time to find out an editor’s beat and find their personal Instagram.  Target journalists and editors whose beat is the local restaurant scene.  Most editors these days are using Instagram as a business tool to connect with locals for their stories.  It’s likely that this editor’s account is public and that they are looking to engage with local businesses.

Influencers are increasingly becoming a marketing strategy for local restaurants.  Again, make sure that you’re following influencers in your niche.  Perhaps this means you should be targeting influencers who eat out frequently and whose followers go to them for restaurant recommendations.  If you’re a vegan restaurant, perhaps you should be targeting vegan influencers, regardless of whether or not they frequent restaurants.  Depending on the size of your city, the number of followers that an influencer has will vary, but I’d recommend following influencers with 5,000 or more followers.

3.  Business educators (20%)

Instagram is full of resources for entrepreneurs, businesses, and restaurants.  Whether it’s advice how to hire wait staff, bookkeeping, or marketing, you can find it on Instagram!

Instagram has become an incredible education tool that allows you to learn by reading educators’ posts, but also allows you to communicate with them directly.  If you have a business question, you can DM (direct message) them on Instagram. In my experience, they almost always get back to you.

By following educators, you can also build a community of other like-minded businesses like you and use them as resources.  Most educators have Facebook groups that allow you to pose questions to other businesses in your niche.

There’s a reason why your competitors aren’t on this list.  The problem with following only your competitors is that unintentionally or not, you will all start to post the same things and Instagram will become a sea of uninteresting and uninspiring food pictures. The other issue is that you’re not engaging with your potential customers.  This is the entire point of Instagram:  It’s direct to consumer and allows you to cultivate a relationship.

Instagram should be fun! And it’s okay to follow some awesome accounts out there!  But moral of the story, if following an account doesn’t add value to your business, chuck it.

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How to target customers by location on Instagram

How does a restaurant with a brick and mortar location target potential customers in their specific region?

It can be really difficult to do this over Instagram especially. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just run a search for all of the food lovers within a 5 mile radius?  Instead, you might be hashtagging your way into oblivion, coming across instagrammers all over the country, and going crazy because none of it is helping you to target local customers who will actually sit down and eat at your restaurant.

Here’s the good news, it’s easier than you think.  Here are my recommendations of how to find and target ideal customers on Instagram:

1.  Follow local hashtag

Follow region-specific hashtags that your potential customers may be using such as, #dcfoodie, #newforkcity, or #chicagoeats.

To follow a hashtag, search for the hashtag in the search bar, click on the result and then click follow. This will bring new posts into your home food that are posted by people using that hashtag.

What’s great about this is that it will push posts using that hashtag into your home feed, even if you do not follow that person.

When you see these posts in your feed, comment and engage with the person who posted it!  Maybe click over to their profile, follow them, or comment on a couple of their other photos.

Make sure that your comments have substance, don’t just post emojis.  If you engage with someone authentically, they’ll take notice and maybe even click over to your profile.

2.  Search for posts at other restaurants in your city

To search for posts at other locations, click the search icon, click places, and type in the name of a restaurant.  You can then see posts taken at that location.

You are looking for posts posted by customers, not posts posted by the restaurant.  Comment on those posts, click on who posted it, follow them, and engage with them. Authentically.

3. Engage with local customers who are currently online

To find potential customers who are most likely online, find posts that were posted in the last 10 minutes. To do this, search for a local hashtag or location, click the result, and then click “Recent”.

This shows you posts in reverse chronological order.  By commenting and engaging with these posts, the person who posted it has a higher likelihood of seeing your comment and answering it in real time because they are most likely still on the app.

Do you have any other suggestions? How do you target customers within your region?

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Instagram 101 for Restaurants

Here’s the thing about marketing your restaurant on Instagram:  it’s not rocket science but it’s NOT easy…far from it.  These are the three principles any restaurant needs to be successful on Instagram:


Humans naturally want to connect with others.  If you can effectively convey your restaurant’s story over social media, you’ll inherently build more connections.  Maybe you feel like you don’t have a story to tell.  Well, I have news for you:  everyone has a story and it’s probably more interesting than you think.

Why did you start this restaurant? Did you grow up baking in your grandmother’s kitchen?  Was it your passion for traditional Cuban cooking?  Did you and your best friend always dream of owning your own bar?

It doesn’t matter what your story is.  You just need to have one.


Now that you have a story, your job is to tell that story over and over and over again.  If it sounds like you’re repeating yourself every few posts, that’s okay!  Your potential customers aren’t going to see every one of your posts (thank you Instagram algorithm!) and your followers need to be told that story multiple times before they’ll remember it.

Here’s the good news though, the days of having to post every day on Instagram are over. That said, you need to be consistent. Maybe you post 3 times per week, maybe you post 5 times per week.  It doesn’t truly matter as long as you’re consistent.  Don’t post 7 days one week, 2 days the next week, then take a week off, then 7 days again.

The sweet spot is 3 – 6 days per week.

Genuine Engagement

Instagram is a form of social media.  Key word: social.  It’s a platform that enables you to talk directly with potential customers and for them to talk directly to you.  So how do you engage in a way that isn’t spammy?

  1. Answer your DM’s
  2. Answer your comments
  3. Comment on posts of potential customers
  4. Comment on posts using hashtags in your niche (local hashtags are best!)

Pro Tip – make sure that the majority of your comments are 4 words or more and ask a question.  This gives people the opportunity to respond! And that equals more engagement.

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