Blog Post / September 27, 2018

Viral Marketing Tips for Restaurants: How to Step Up Your Wow Factor

by Bianca McLaren
Bianca McLaren

Not exactly breaking news, but there’s now an all out obsession with posting photos of food on social media. This behavior is second nature for millennials and Gen Z. They are shopping for groceries less and spend more time eating out. These young people are unwittingly becoming advertising and branding juggernauts. The perfect photo can become a viral hit, amassing tens of thousands of views and clicks, and in the meantime, skyrocketing the interest in the restaurant and menu dishes. But what makes something a viral hit on social media? What’s feeding the frenzy? How can a restaurant get in on the action? Well, keep reading because we have a few viral marketing tips for restaurants looking to get more from their social campaigns, including Instagram.

Check Out These 11 New Post Ideas for Your Instagram Business Profile

Viral Marketing: Will you know it when you see it?

While traditional marketing techniques target an audience and present information to them directly, a restaurant’s viral presence, in theory, comes organically. Content going viral depends entirely on social sharing, with interesting content being shared throughout a user’s network, which in turn leads to reposting and eventually the creation of a snowball effect. With this in mind, the first step in a restaurant going viral is creating content which will be deemed “worthy” of sharing -- from a colorful new dessert, to a jazzy presentation.

It is not uncommon for venues to hire professionals to strategize for them. Front of House, a NYC-based creative marketing agency, specializes in creating social media content for restaurants. Others do it themselves, using free analytics from companies like Google or Foursquare.

A variety of factors have an impact on which content goes viral and which does not. In fact, what actually constitutes a post being considered viral is confusing. Despite the fact that there is virtually no quantitative data to back the claim, in general researchers have similar thoughts on the matter.

“Unfortunately there is no hard and fast definition,” said Jonah Berger, professor at The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania in an interview with Forbes. “Further people often use viral to mean highly shared, but what it really often means is popular. A video can get a million views because a brand paid to have it placed on various sites. That’s why I talk about how contagious something is, or how likely it is to be shared given exposure.”

Luckily, most agree on a few critical points. Viral posts typically share one or more of these elements:

With a little creativity and luck, you can transform your business overnight. Here are a few brands who managed to achieve viral fam through creating wow-worthy content on social media.

Tip 1. Bring the Wow Factor

One example of the combination of creativity and a ‘cool’ factor is the now infamous “Salt Bae” video, featuring Nusret Gökçe, a Turkish chef and owner of Nusr-Et, a chain of steakhouses now spanning the globe. In a simple 36 second clip, Gökçe performs his “signature move”, slicing up his famous Ottoman steak and finishing with his iconic salt sprinkle, letting the crystals fall down his forearm onto the meat. The video was uploaded to Instagram, and within 48 hours the post had been viewed over 2 million times. It has since gone on to obtain over 16 million views; almost entirely due to viral sharing. People tend to overlook the way that viral posts initially gain momentum once they have become phenomena, which is the massive network of sharing that they themselves often play a part in.

Instagram for Restaurants Sample Post

Gökçe’s viral moves have made him a global star, helping him to secure backing to open restaurants across Miami, New York and Dubai, television appearances, and posts from influencers with enormous reach, including Drake, Leonardo DiCaprio and more. “Salt Bae” is an undeniable embodiment of viral marketing, be it intentional or not.

Tip 2. Let the Food Speak for Itself

Other establishments rely less on showmanship , focusing instead on the aesthetic and creative beauty of the dishes they prepare. They let the food do the talking, so to speak. The importance of being photogenic and colorful cannot be overstated when taking this route. With an array of mouth-watering concoctions, Momofuku has mastered the art of making dishes look good enough to share.

Momofuku Instagram Example for Restaurants

In the culinary industry, presentation can make or break a post. The food is not the singular factor in catching the viewer’s eye. Its placement on the plate, the plate itself, the background, an accompanying beverage; all of these help bring together the desired effect. If a company hopes to market itself virally via strictly visual stimulation, the photos must be drool-worthy and attention grabbing. Instagram is the social media platform most suited to producing viral imagery in the culinary community due in large part to the fact that the app is based solely on the sharing of images.

Momofuku Nishi Top Instagram Post

Don Angie, located in NYC’s West Village, is another example of a restaurant which has been able to take classic yet accessible dishes and make a splash. The subtle nuance of their “Lasagna for Two” has created a huge buzz for the small eatery. The meal can be taken at face value: it’s a lasagna made for two people to share. What makes it so special? Perhaps the plate, or the ornamentation (pinwheels of fresh pasta, ricotta and chopped basil). This visual appeal demands attention and the viewer can’t help but want to dine and share. As this cycle continues and the post is continually shared, the nature of a viral post is on full display.

Donangie Instagram Tips for Restaurants

Tip 3. Create a Vibe that Shines in Photos

The Butcher's Daughter, a NYC-based juice bar and cafe, aims to market the property as a laid back experience. The space is a perfect tutorial in creating a “vibe”:

✓ A rustic, bohemian interior suits the ever-prevalent avocado toast and a variety of colorful juices

✓ An abundance of natural light shining in through large windows accentuates beautiful green succulents hanging from the ceiling and spread throughout the rest of the floor

✓ The white walls contrast the exposed brick

✓ Vintage stools, benches and couches sit beside stylish wooden tables

✓ Flights of juices form a rainbow amongst tables lining the sidewalk

Restaurants focused less on food than on juices and coffees often take this route in regard to their social media approach: focus on the atmosphere as much as the product, and create a feeling of intimacy, exclusivity and a “feel-good” vibe.

Butcher's Daughter Instagram Post

Tip 4. Never underestimate the power of sugar

Sweets are among the most viral-prone foods of late. From children to adults, everybody seems to be indulging in the innovative and experimental creations chefs are dreaming up. From matcha PokéBalls to hand-rolled ice cream, creativity is blossoming. Unconventional ingredients and combinations of unusual flavors lead to curiosity among customers. This translates into a desire to try the product, which in turn leads to an impulse to share the experience with as many people as possible. This is the key to differentiating between effective social media marketing and creating a viral post: marketing effectively means consumers may like a post, but going viral means they feel a need to share a post. Few find the need to flaunt a typical chocolate ice cream cone, but a fresh, half-baked chocolate chip cookie topped with pretzels and milk ice cream, and drizzled with molten chocolate, leaves them itching to present.

At Spot Dessert Bar, Iron Chef of Thailand Ian Kittichai brings his expertise to the forefront, concocting treats like a raspberry sorbet cone topped with torched meringue. This ability to stand out and create a unique product is key.

Spot Dessert Bar Sugar Instagram Post

Black Tap, another New York City based eatery, has become well-known for their eclectic selection of milkshakes. The drinks, which seem to defy gravity, are a true marvel. Starting at the brim, the outside of the glass is smothered in chocolate or vanilla icing and rolled in sweets, including peanut butter, M&M’s or a variety of other sweets. At this point, the milkshake is poured into the glass and topped with whipped cream. The final step is an abundance of mouthwatering treats thrown on top: cotton candy, chocolate chip cookies, ice cream sandwiches, and even large slices of cake. The resulting shakes are quite literally, over the top, seemingly tailor-made for the age of Instagram. Certain posts have gained over 1 million views.

BlackTap Dessert on Instagram

Based on the common elements of virality listed earlier in this post, the milkshakes at Black Tap check all of the boxes. At once colorful and surprising, the scores of people who line up to taste one of these drinks exemplify the “cool” factor that draws consumers to them. It would be extremely difficult to find a more photogenic milkshake. Their sweet and irresistible qualities blend into their relatability. They are the ideal item for any foodie who thrives on Instagram, allowing others to live vicariously through their own experiences in the culinary world.

A variety of factors have an impact on which content goes viral and which does not. Not all restaurants have a Salt Bae, but for those restaurants with highly aesthetic dishes, a well managed social media strategy can go a long way. But a viral hit is just one part of a wider restaurant marketing strategy.

Are you a restaurant looking to get more from your marketing? Request a free demo of SevenRooms today.

About the Author

Bianca McLaren

Bianca McLaren is the Senior Manager, Brand Marketing at SevenRooms, where she heads up brand awareness, communications and event programming. Based at New York HQ, she's always on the hunt for the best sushi in the city.

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