No matter how great you are with words, nothing can sell your food better than a mouth-watering photo.

Diners eat with their eyes first, and that’s what makes Instagram a vital marketing tool for restaurants. It provides a cost-effective way for you to get images of your food in front of potential guests. By giving these hungry guests a craving for the real thing, you’ll have them lining up at your doorstep in no time.

But if you think filters are for coffee, feeds are for farm animals, and hashtags are for… well, who knows what, you might need a little Insta-assistance. And that’s where this guide comes in. From setting up your Instagram to creating and curating the perfect posts, this post has everything you need to get started on your #InstaSuccess.

Set Up Your Instagram For Success

First things first: You need to set up a business Instagram account for your restaurant. There are a few tips for doing so that will make your account both professional, and the best possible marketing tool.

First, choose a handle that’s easily recognizable and searchable, so guests have no problem finding you on the platform. Your restaurant name is a good place to start, and if it’s not available, add your city to the name. Example: @sweetgreen or @deepellumboston. Pro-tip: Both of those accounts kill it, so check them out if you need some inspiration!

When you set up your account, make sure you set it up as a business account, and not a personal one.

This will allow you to access Insights, Instagram’s suite of business-friendly analytics tools to see how your posts are performing and where there’s room for growth in your reach. Having a business account also makes it easier for diners to contact you through Instagram.

When you create your account, also take a moment to create a location page for your restaurant, which will allow other users to easily tag you in photos they post when they visit, as well as curate posts made at your restaurant onto one page.

If you use other forms of social media, like Facebook and Twitter, integrate your Instagram with those accounts.

Always make sure your Instagram photos are posting to your other social profiles, and cross promote your new Instagram account there to increase reach and follower counts. And consider embedding a stream of your most recent Instagram photos on your website, too.

Finally, before you start posting, you should do a little bit of hashtag research.

Instagram posts with at least one hashtag average 12.6 percent more engagement, according to a Simply Measured study. But that doesn’t mean any hashtag will work. Choose hashtags that will get you a lot of eyes, but be careful of being too vague and getting buried with millions of other posts. For example, #foodie is nearing 100 million posts on Instagram. Instead, try personalizing it with your city; for example, #chicagofood, which has more than half a million posts. This means that you have a higher chance of reaching new followers without getting buried by thousands of other posts. You should also create a hashtag specifically for your restaurant, and then use it in your Instagram bio and all your posts. You can even display it in your restaurant or print it on your menus to encourage diners to use it, too.

Who Should Post? 

Once your Instagram is up and running, it’s time to determine who should post to it.

Ideally, posting should be the responsibility of a small handful of staff who know how to take great photos, understand Instagram business best practices, and can nail the company’s voice in captions and customer interactions. If you have someone in charge of marketing, this is a job for them.

But don’t limit your Instagram posts to just your staff

Encourage customers to post photos they take at your restaurant, then use your hashtag to find them and share the best on your own account. You can offer gift cards or discounts as an incentive to get customers posting great photos using your hashtag with your location tagged, which will help spread the word about your restaurant online.

A good example of this comes from a Dunkin’ Donuts campaign called “UpgraDDe Your Sandwich.” It encouraged followers to share pictures of their lunches that needed a “Dunkin’ Donuts upgrade” along with the hashtag #UpgraDDe.

Select participants won gift cards to Dunkin’ Donuts.

You can also partner with food bloggers or influencers in your area!

Look for local people with 20,000-50,000 followers. Then reach out to see if they’d be willing to have a meal on you, and share photos of the experience with their audiences. You get to reach a large, loyal following, and this kind of advertising is usually cheap and effective.

When Should You Post?

Ideally, you should be posting to your Instagram daily, or even multiple times per day. Try out regular, daily posts, like posting photos and descriptions of your specials.

Also definitely take advantage of Instagram when special events are happening.

If your restaurant is involved in a fair or festival, promote that on Instagram! Take photos of your setup at the event. Broadcast a live video showing crowds and excitement at the event, and encourage more followers to come out and find you there. You can even use photos or stories to chronicle something disastrous, like a rainstorm in the middle of a festival. Have fun with it, and your followers are sure to enjoy the content.

But also be on the lookout for day-to-day events that you can promote on Instagram. If you’re introducing a new food or signature drink, use your Instagram account to show it off and welcome your guests to try out new menu items. You can even use Instagram to host a contest where you allow a guest to name a new food or drink item.

What Should You Post?

While everything in this guide will help you create the best Instagram account possible, nothing matters as much as what you post. Your content is what will gain you followers, and turn those followers into guests who show up for your food.

First and foremost, you have to post photos of your food and drinks.

Remember that example at the beginning? What’s more effective: a really well-written description of a cheeseburger? Or this:

You’re getting hungry just looking at it, right?

But if you’re going to post food pics, they have to look as great as the food tastes.

That means you can’t just take any photo.

Take this burger photo for example. Does this look as appetizing?

Unfortunately, the answer is no.

The photo is dark. It’s blurry, and the camera is focused on the background instead of the burger itself.

Plus, the angle also does not show off the ingredients or the dish presentation well.

Bottom line – this photo is not doing the burger justice – despite how delicious it may be! 

Here are a few tips for getting the best possible food photography, even as a novice photographer! 

  • Use a real camera, or your phone camera app, rather than taking your photos with Instagram’s limited in-app camera.
  • Use the Rule of Thirds to get nice framing on your shots. If a grid were placed over your photo, dividing it into thirds both vertically and horizontally, the most visually interesting points should be where the lines of the grid intersect.
  • Aim for natural light. Always avoid flash and harsh overhead lights that can wash out your food.
  • Use props! A pair of chopsticks on a plate of sushi, a cork next to a wine glass, a spoon in a bowl of soup. They all add action to what could otherwise be pretty stale shots.
  • Add texture. If you’re shooting something like soup, garnish it with herbs or croutons. Add fresh berries to a sorbet. These little details add some contrast to your shots and make them more interesting (and tasty!).
  • Embrace filters. Instagram comes with plenty of pre-set filters that can help your photos pop, and apps like VSCO and Lightroom can also help you adjust colors and levels to make your shots look even better.
But food shouldn’t be all you post.

Instagram is also a great way to show the behind-the-scenes workings of your restaurant. Show off your ambiance. Introduce your staff. Let your followers follow along with a renovation project. Instagram can make your restaurant and its staff seem a little more human, so let it do just that.

While Instagram has always been a photo sharing platform, it’s introduced new ways to create content with video and stories. Take advantage of these! A video of a glass of wine being poured is a lot more interesting — and mouth-watering — than a still shot. A video tour of your kitchen can allow followers to meet your chef and see them in their element.

When it comes to daily content, don’t feel like you have to create it all yourself.

Embrace the art of re-gramming — posting customers’ photos that they took at your restaurant. Your hashtags and location tags will really help with this. One note: Be sure to tag the original poster. It will let them know that you posted their content and it builds a way for you to connect with a customer–making the relationship even stronger.

Instagram is Not a One-Way Street!

Beware: Instagram isn’t a visual press conference for your brand.

You should constantly be interacting, liking, commenting, and engaging with your followers.

Take the time to dig into their relevant content that relates to your brand and engage with it.

Aside from posting, use Instagram to have positive interactions with your fans. Post captions that inspire them to comment (a fill in the blank is a great option, like “The best burger topping is ___”), then start a dialogue. Answer questions. Encourage opinions. Engage respectfully, but with a fun tone.

Armed with the right tips and tricks, it’s easy to see that Instagram is a powerful marketing tool — and that it isn’t nearly as scary as it might seem to a less-than-tech-savvy restaurateur. Use this guide to create a restaurant Instagram account that will not only show off the great work you’re doing, but will inspire diners to become followers.