Published on January 10, 2023
Creative restaurant promotions come in all shapes and sizes—get inspiration to make your next promo stand out.
Ready or not, Instagram has a significant effect on the restaurant industry. Heavy competition has eateries large and small trying to build strong social presences and launch creative restaurant promotions to attract new customers and reach a wider audience.
18-35-year-olds spend five days a year (120 hours) browsing food images on Instagram, according to research by Zizzi. And 30% say they would avoid a restaurant if their Instagram presence was weak.
What does this mean for restaurant managers? If you don’t already have one, it’s time to put a basic Instagram strategy in place for your establishment and an idea of the types of posts you want to create—for example, attractive food pics, specials, staff, and anything that fits your brand. When someone clicks on your profile, the grid of photos should show a cohesive brand identity without the user even needing to look at the words.
Aside from the regular, everyday posts, though, you’ll want occasional promotions that help get your name out a little further. These marketing campaigns can take myriad directions, but the most critical piece of creative restaurant promotions on Instagram is a hashtag. Your restaurant should have a branded hashtag on every post, but then the promo should also have its own hashtag. This allows you to keep track of people participating, it makes the promo a lot more searchable, and again, creates a cohesive brand experience.
Want to spread the word of your restaurant without lifting a finger? Use Everwall to create monthly contests that incentivize customers to snap photos of your food and share them on social media! Start building your social wall today!
Get inspired: Real-life examples of creative restaurant promotions
Instagram holds a lot of potential for launching effective, inventive promos for your restaurant, but you may be having trouble getting started with ideas. Take some time to read the seven examples below—use your favorites to inspire your next big creative restaurant promotion.
For quite a while, this (mostly) West Coast pizza chain encouraged patrons to post a photo of themselves and their Pieology grub on Instagram with the hashtag #MyPieology. The company would share the images on their corporate page, which encouraged patrons even more because it’s fun to feel “famous.”
The Irvine, CA branch, though, extended this promo even more by offering a free coupon for cinnamon sticks to anyone who used the #MyPiology hashtag and posted a picture. This campaign was effective because, in exchange for free cinnamon sticks, the Irvine store was getting nearly free marketing from brand ambassadors.
2. California Pizza Kitchen
When California Pizza Kitchen began selling pizzas with cauliflower crust, it teamed up with Instagram influencers to get the word out. Each influencer posted about the new crust, used the same hashtag— #poweredbycauliflower—and hosted a giveaway for their followers. Followers were instructed to tag 2 friends in the comments, like the photo, and then follow the California Pizza Kitchen corporate account to be entered to win a $25 gift card to try the new pizza.
90% of marketers say they use engagement rates to measure the success of their influencer marketing campaigns. California Pizza Kitchen’s promotion was successful because it offered many different ways to reach consumers and get them (and their friends) engaged.
3. Howlin’ Ray’s
This small restaurant in Los Angeles (it used to be a food truck) is super popular because it has excellent Nashville-style fried chicken. However, because it’s so small and popular, the lines get pretty long; sometimes, they’ll post wait times on their Instagram to let people know. To diffuse the sadness about long waits, one of Howlin’ Ray’s creative restaurant promotions is to post a photo and say “best caption wins a fast pass and gift card.” This promo is effective because not only do people love free food (and a chance to skip that line), but it’s a fun game to provoke engagement and to show they care about keeping customers happy.
4. Burger King
You don’t have to have a Burger King-sized budget to make this Instagram promotion work. To raise awareness on National American Sign Language Day, BK created a promo that played off their brand icon’s silence. They posted a video on Instagram of the King and encouraged ASL-speaking followers to help create a sign for the Whopper. They used the hashtag #WHOPPERsign. This was a great promotion because while it tied into the Burger King brand, it also gave them an opportunity to raise awareness and appeal to an underserved community.
5. The Meatball Shop
The Meatball Shop has 6 locations in New York City, so when they opened their first shop outside the area in Washington, DC, they wanted to do something extra special on Instagram. The restaurant created a scavenger hunt and left clues on its Instagram profile. Partnering with DC businesses, participants would follow clues to those businesses to find hidden golden grinders. It went on for 4 days, and each day there was a grand prize winner who won free meatballs for a year. While this promo could have really benefited from a hashtag (it would have been so cool to have a social media wall hanging in the restaurant to track the game), it was still an effective way to make their presence known in a new location, partner with local business owners, and profit from their existing connections.
6. Big Star Chicago
Big Star Chicago is an upscale Mexican restaurant that also has a walk-up window so dog owners can bring their furry friends and eat outside. They post and re-post photos of dogs that visit their two locations and use the hashtag #DogsofBigStar. This is an ongoing promotion, but it works because everyone loves a cute dog, pet owners are always looking for pet-friendly establishments, and it’s continuous good press for the restaurant.
7. Catit and Carmel Winery
This is one of the most creative restaurant promotions you’ll come across—and while it’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to copy it for your establishment, it should help get you thinking outside of the box. To begin with, this promotion—called Foodography—doesn’t even start on Instagram; it begins in the restaurant and results in patrons posting on Instagram.
This Tel Aviv restaurant will serve you food on specially-designed plates that help you shoot high-quality food pics with your smartphone. A top food photographer teaches a photography workshop while guests eat. It works, too. After the restaurant invited journalists to experience Foodography, Catit and Carmel Winery received $400,000 worth of free press from publications around the world and sales rose by 13%.
Time to get started!
If you’ve never run creative restaurant promotions on Instagram before, start small. Begin with a promo hashtag and try a caption contest like Howlin’ Ray’s. See how everything goes and then grow your marketing strategy from there. Don’t feel like you need to always have a promotion running, either. Having too many promos will just be exhausting for you and will eventually stop being as exciting for your followers. Try once a quarter for a year and adapt based on your learnings.
Here’s a fun idea! Come up with hashtag games for your restaurant patrons, and display photos and leaderboards on your walls to increase engagement while promoting your specials. Start building your social wall today!
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