Instagram strategies to build a customer base for restaurants

Instagram, if used effectively, can be a great tool to grow relationships with people in your local community. For restaurants and cafes, developing a base of recurring, loyal diners is important for business stability.

Please note that our strategies below are shared based on our experience working with restaurants in Sydney, Australia. If you have any questions or would like to leave feedback, you can message us via Instagram

1. Follow accounts in your community

The goal of social media is to be social. If you recently moved into a new neighbourhood and you want to be part of the community, the best thing for you to do is to go out and meet people.

It’s no different on Instagram. 

Remember that the people who are most likely to be your customers are the ones who live closest to you!

Firstly, we want to identify a list of accounts that are nearby. In the case of a restaurant in Newtown, Sydney (Australia), we can: 

  • Type “Newtown” into Search. A list of local businesses and community pages should show up
  • Type the names of surrounding suburbs. For Newtown, this would include “Redfern”, “Enmore”, “Stanmore”, “Eveleigh”, and “Marrickville”.
  • Visit the “Newtown” area in Instagram maps and see who has tagged the location.

Secondly, we want to check that these accounts are active and likely to follow back.

  • If the account’s Story is active, then the account is active. 
  • If the account is “Following” a sizeable number, then they have a higher chance of following us back.

Using Instagram’s Search bar

2. Engage with who you follow

You’re unlikely to make many new friends if you’re the only one talking.

In the same way, we’re unlikely going to receive many engagements on Instagram if we don’t interact with others.

Let’s give before we take.

Actions for engagement:

  • Like other people’s Posts
  • Comment meaningfully
  • React to Stories
  • Re-share their Posts if appropriate

Remember that Instagram values genuine interaction. That is what serves its business. It wants to keep people on its platform for as long as possible. Help Instagram do that, and you can be rewarded too.

If your account is being used thoughtfully to build relationships (rather than just publish Posts promotionally), the algorithm will recognise it. 

Build relationships with fellow small businesses by commenting thoughtfully.

3. Send a direct message

We’re definitely not recommending a “mass-send” style here. DMs, or direct messages, should be sent with curation and care.

Identify people or organisations who may enjoy knowing that your restaurant exists. These include:

  • Local suburban councils
  • Suburb community pages
  • Local government figures
  • Real estate agencies or agents

How should we craft the DM? 

Think about it the other way round. What kind of message would they enjoy receiving? What would be the value-add for them?

For example, if you DM a real estate agency, you might mention something along the lines of:

“… if knowing that there is an omakase Japanese restaurant in the area will interest your potential tenants, we would love to introduce ourselves, we are …” 

It’s part of a real estate agent’s job to know what’s in an area so they can sell it. If you’re in the area, you can let them know.

4. Generate chatter and buzz

If you walk down a street in Sydney and see many restaurants, you might scratch your head and wonder which one would be worth your time (and stomach).

If the restaurant has a queue, it has social currency.

The same social currency can be generated from Instagram. It may take just a bit of effort to start it.

In your first few months of opening, you may notice diners photographing your dishes. There is a chance that they will be publishing to Instagram!

You can consider:

  • Kindly going up to the diner and introducing that your restaurant has an Instagram, which can be tagged @____________
  • Incentivising diners to tag your restaurant in their Stories or Posts. The incentive could be in the form of a dollar credit on their next bill or a free dessert.

Our goal is to reach a steady-state where diners regularly share about your restaurant on their social media.

Success metrics will include:

  • A location marker being established in Instagram for your restaurant. How exciting it’s going to be when the “Check-ins” accumulate!
  • You will start to receive DMs enquiring about anything from bookings to collaborations
  • People coming in having seen your restaurant on their friend’s Instagram 

Popular restaurants have their own “Check-in” location where diners’ photos are displayed.

5. Engage with food bloggers

The foodie industry has been growing in recent years. You may have heard of social media influencers. The foodies we’re talking about are in a related category.

Many don’t have followers in the hundreds of thousands or tens of thousands range. What they do have is an engaged following who pays attention to what they post.

Depending on your restaurant marketing strategy, you may consider collaborating with a food blogger.

The ideal one should:

  • Be genuine and descriptive in their content. 
  • Have an engaged following. You can check this by seeing how many people interact with their Posts, or how many times their Reels are viewed.

Sydney has no shortage of food bloggers who enjoy sharing about their experiences at restaurants. Usually, they publish content on Instagram, TikTok, or Xiaohongshu (a platform popular with Chinese people). 

If you’d like to consider a service which manages collaborations with food bloggers, send us a message.

Food bloggers can amplify your restaurant’s digital presence.