People eat with their eyes – Managing a restaurant’s Digital Marketing Process

Food photos are much more than a pretty pixel. People eat with their eyes. Photographs of food, affectionately monikered “food porn”, is the current trend in restaurant marketing. Lookers lust for beautifully enticing food pics, and not from perusing glossy magazines, but instantaneously via social media outlets. A well-executed marketing plan and branded photos, allows for directed messaging and for interactive engagement from the viewers. By controlling the look, feel and experience of the posts, the owner guides the connection with the customer. The restaurant’s goal is promoting the restaurant, a particular menu item or an event. Managed posts enable the restaurant to turn a single app into a powerhouse of communication in one fell swoop.



BRANDING is the experience that someone has when they connect with anything about a business. It is the overall look, feel and experience. Colors, logo, typeface, verbiage align to create the message that the business (restaurant, in this case) wants to convey. Branding is the whole package, not the individual components that make up the brand.For example:

Envision a retro diner: the sign might be thick neon tubing in red, tables with Formica tops and waitstaff sporting white short sleeved shirts with little, red bowties, or the logo has a black and white checked background. All invoke the feeling of stepping back in time.

A touch of the primary color of the logo in each shot that the restaurant posts.

Connected reposts from farms and places that foods used on the menu come from.

Photos of landmarks from the region or area where the restaurant is located.

 MARKETING – is how the restaurant promotes its brand. It is the choice of medium, the timing, and the placement, the outcome or goal that the restaurant wants to achieve.



FACEBOOK was the place to find out about a new restaurant or where updated information came from. From ABOUT US to PHOTO ALBUMS, to EVENT ANNOUNCEMENTS, it was the “it” app. But the trend is moving away from this channel for a variety of reasons.

TWITTER is instantaneous in its reach for up-to-the minute information. It has photos, but is relied upon for its written content which are meant to be quick, short bursts of info.

PINTEREST – pictorially oriented, is a search engine for ideas, recipes, and tangible information.

INSTAGRAM – has become the de facto food source for restaurants, food bloggers and foodies, to exhibit their food photos and promote their businesses.

There are many more choices than these four, but these are the primary platforms and the ones most widely known. All arrived, served a purpose, evolved, and changed. The end use may have slightly varied from the initial intent, but the niche that each app addressed seems to have been implemented successfully. As a restaurant marketing tool, one is usually the primary, and the others used not as frequently, if at all sometimes.



Instagram is currently the most widely used social media channel by the food/restaurant industry to share food pictures. While the rules of using social media channels for branded content are cross-applicable, INSTAGRAM is where the industry is at this writing.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then this is the best way to get someone to connect in an instant. Think of it as love at first sight. Index fingers move through a scroll at a clip, settling when a snapshot catches one’s fancy.

There is instant gratification from the poster and the viewer. A viewer sees the post and can instantaneously “like” it or comment within a matter of seconds.

It is interactive, it shows up on like-minded feeds, and it can get thousands of views with a single photo, just by having a variety of hashtags so that it shows in a variety of different places. Each photo can go to a new audience by simply changing a hashtag or two.

Posting and aligning hashtags, engaging interactively in conversations with likes and comments, following and reposting information that coordinates, connects and reflects a restaurant’s brand is critical to successful digital marketing.

It is not just about the random post. It needs to be calculated and planned. Not to discourage spontaneity and creativity, but if a photo does not coordinate with the restaurant’s branding, it may seem out of line with the message the restaurant is trying to convey.

EXAMPLE: Momofuku Group owns restaurants located in NYC, Sydney, DC, Las Vegas, LA and Toronto. Below are some photos from their Instagram posts. All the photos have exquisite clarity, are similar in the location of the subject matter in relation to the frame, and keep most of their post aligned with this crisp look and feel. (Instagram Posts accessed 1/5/20 @Momolongplay)




Branding means having each post align with the message and mission that the restaurant wants to convey and for the experience that they want the viewer to have.

A vegan restaurant might have backgrounds of warm wood, soft greens, and foods made from all vegan ingredients. And they are looking to get the index finger to stop scrolling when the picture looks inviting.

A comfort food venue might have a fireplace as the backdrop for a steaming dish of mac and cheese. Maybe cozy is the capturing moment.

Photos should have some connection to the restaurant’s branding (placement of a particular color, the ambiance, or most of the time, the food itself).

Hashtags should align with the post. Some hashtags might be used with every post, such as the restaurant’s name and a buzzword or two, but many will change to align with the post itself.

Changing hashtags gets posts to new viewers, who may become potential followers.

Standard hashtags maintain continuity.

EXAMPLE: Egg Shop, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and Nolita, Manhattan. This is an example of perfectly branded content. Egg Shop, is obviously an egg-based restaurant and their branding color is a light teal. Something with eggs and teal shows up in almost every single post and if it is not in the post, it is in the feed, so always visible. (Remember branding is about the experience that the restauranteur wants the customer to have any time they come in contact with the business – it is not just the logo.) (Instagram Posts accessed 1/5/20 @eggshopnyc).



FREQUENCY – Consistency is key. Staying active on INSTAGRAM is tantamount to success. Viewers need to be reminded regularly that there is something going on at the restaurant, and why they should be engaged.

QUANTITY – Post, post and post again.

Sometimes the same and sometimes different photos. Why? Because people need to be told something several times before it sticks.

QUALITY – Having a set of guidelines to help with branding, will keep posts on track with the mission.

The restaurants theme color is blue as an example. Have a bit of blue on the table, the back wall, the plate, something that reminds the viewer in a non-verbal way how this photo is related.

Photos from the area, city, state where the restaurant is located.

Farm-to-table? Post photos and connect to the farms where the food comes from.

Want to post a random photo just because it seems interesting to share? Relate it back to something having to do with someone or something about the restaurant.



Clarity of subject matter. Nothing is worse than an out of focus photo.

The beauty of digital is that a photo can be taken over and over and over again at little to no cost to get a good shot.

From a basic editing program (such as iPhoto’s capabilities) to Photoshop and Lightroom, editing is easily accessible. Plus, there are endless numbers of downloadable editing apps for Instagram and other social media content.

A good mobile phone enables a keen eye to take nice photos, and if edited well, can be absolutely fine.

Buy a good point-and-shoot camera with different light settings, download and then filter in photoshop or Lightroom.

Invest in a DSLR and learn how to edit the photos.

Fox in the Snow Café, located in Columbus, Ohio nails it with beautifully edited, crisp shots. Each photo lures the viewer in. Who would not want to go there? (Instagram Posts accessed @foxinthesnowcafe 1/5/20)



Go it alone.

PROS – control of content, scheduling and costs are contained

CONS – time to arrange the posts, edit, comment and like others posts

Hire a social media manager.

PROS – allows for someone else to manage the process and schedule the posting activities.

CONS – Paying someone to manage the process, and requires managing an employee or sub-contractor

Work with a digital marketing firm.

PROS – highly organized and efficient, posts and branding remain on message, manage the process, may be cost efficient

CONS – virtual or not on site, less control on day-today basis, can be costly



HOOTSUITE and TAILWIND offer a variety of plans (free and paid) that enable scheduling of posts and monitoring

Posts can be scheduled to launch at certain times, repeat over a course of time, and allow for changes to be easily administered by a number of users.

By scheduling and planning well in advance, posting is easier to manage. Known events can be coordinated in advance with scheduled posts with aligned messages and hashtags.

Each post is monitored for engagement so it is easy to follow what works, with whom it resonates and help to frame future content.

Monitoring takes place within Hootsuite and Tailwind, and connected to a Google Analytics Account.


GOOGLE ANALYTICS – establish an account and follow the steps to learn how to monitor the activity level of posts from engaged viewers to best posting times. Learn about what to post when, how to target and assess.

These are tools that a social media manager or dedicated digital firm will most likely use as well, but they are certainly ones that can be used by anyone to simplify and enhance the posting experience. And each Instagram post shows the number of comments and likes, which is in and of itself a stat on how well the subject matter has performed.

Below is a comparison of Hootsuite and Tailwind by Konji, a social media marketing company. There are pros and cons of all the tools meant to aid in the management process. Researching what is available and aligning the capabilities of different management tools can help to achieve social media marketing goals. (com, accessed 1/5/20)


Online engagement is a necessity to connect with the greatest number of potential people who may one day walk through the door and order something.

Used effectively in a well-managed manner with content that coordinates and aligns with the restaurant’s branding, can lead to greater visibility in a highly competitive arena.

Observing and gauging what posts do well by garnering likes and comments, helps to guide future potential success.

The bottom line is that it takes a lot more interactive engagement than just word-of-mouth to stay in business. Restaurants are plentiful in this current food boom. Standing out with a consistent, clear message through a photo that thoroughly represents the restaurant’s brand can help to bring a restaurant to the forefront of many a diner’s choice of where to go for dinner. And after all is that not the daily burning question – what are we going to eat? 

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