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4 ways to become “Insta-famous”

How restaurants are using social media to boost exposure
Photograph: Shutterstock

In the past, restaurants that wanted to get the word out about a new menu item had to hope for a review in the local paper. That’s not the case anymore, thanks to social-media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. Now, restaurants can post about menu updates themselves to get the word out, and customers can amplify that message by posting their own photos of the experience and the food.

So how can restaurants use social media strategy to their benefit to boost exposure and traffic? Here are four tips.

Create an experience

“Restaurant diners no longer see food only as a way to get the nutrients and sustenance their bodies need—they see it as an experience,” says Mike Stern, PepsiCo Foodservice Director of Culinary & Sales. For that reason, operators need to thoughtfully consider a menu item or dish that will not only be tasty but will also provide that unique experience. “A restaurant wanting to create a social-media buzz should first focus on quality ingredients and great taste, and then on bringing an element of novelty to the dish. Dishes that are considered especially delicious, that use local and recognizable ingredients or that capitalize on recent trends in popular culture are the ones that bring that second element to the table and end up plastered all over Instagram,” he says.

Follow trends to help ensure success

Capitalizing on trends, though, means that operators need to know what the trends are in the first place. Keeping up with social media and scrolling through hashtags can help, as can following trending accounts and industry leaders and experts. However, it’s important to strive for authenticity. “Remaining true to your identity and being patient with your consumer base are important,” says Stern. “Trying too hard to achieve that Instagram moment can lead to negative reactions and perception. Consumers are looking for novel dishes, not novelty.”

In other words, operators should choose carefully before latching onto something that’s trending. Make sure that the food or beverage that’s introduced is in line with brand values and perception—i.e., don’t bank on an over-the-top “freakshake” to be a winning menu item at a concept that specializes in organic salads.

Choosing a unique food or beverage item

Social media encourages virality, Stern says, which can be beneficial for restaurants that may not have big marketing budgets for launching innovative dishes. But choosing unique dishes can be a tough task. PepsiCo FlavorWorks is designed to help with the process. This tool offers operators a searchable library of over 500 innovative recipes created using products from PepsiCo’s product portfolio from which operators can draw inspiration as well as trends and insights that are informed by what consumers are demanding, from the latest trends in burger toppings to what flavor combinations they’re seeking out. 

Stern points to the wildly popular Doritos Locos Taco from Taco Bell as a successful example of an on-trend, buzzworthy item. “The item combined unique and novel ingredients from PepsiCo with strong execution from Taco Bell, sprinkled in a bit of social media virality, and became one of the most successful fast food innovations of all time,” he says. He points to Mac n’ Cheetos Breaded Macaroni & Cheese Snacks and Doritos Loaded Breaded Cheese snacks as other buzzworthy items that featured ingredients from the PepsiCo portfolio.

Flipping to the beverage side of things, drinks such as Moscow mules and kombucha are trending, and brands would be well-served to keep those in mind when creating new menu items.

Boosting exposure

Once a menu item is introduced, brands need to be consistent about sharing it (and sharing other content as well).

Millennials are the most likely to post photos of food and drink on social media. According to Technomic’s 2018 Generational report, 31% say that when they visit restaurants, they often take pictures of their food and post them on social media, compared to 23% of Gen Z and 17% overall. And according to Technomic’s 2018 Beverage report, 36% of consumers say they would be likely to purchase unique, limited-time beverages that are experiential.

Having an active social media presence is crucial for getting customers involved. “Only occasionally posting signals that you really are not in touch with your customer base,” Stern says.

Operators can harness consumer interest by getting the ball rolling on their own accounts. Post photos of the new or limited-time only menu item and use strategic hashtags and geolocation tags to get diners excited, then track engagement and follow along with the menu items’ appearance on social media. Interact with guests both online and in person about the menu item, too—engagement is crucial for boosting exposure.

Creating buzz doesn’t have to be a complicated project. With PepsiCo’s FlavorWorks and a little creativity, brands can be well on their way to menu and social media success.

This post is sponsored by PepsiCo Foodservice

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