It’s never been more important to stay connected to your regulars and prospective patrons.

And with basically everyone living a digital life these days, social media is your best bet to forge and maintain that connection. Of the social options out there, Instagram is a star in the industry. Vivid and inviting images can make the difference in catching a consumer’s eye. Especially now, Instagram has the ability to help you market imaginative concepts like “back-to-school” specials, whether for at home or in person, and tout the safety and transparency of your operation. Here are some technical tips to make your Instagram game a little more snappy.

Know Your Vibe

Your vibe should be the kind of feeling you want guests to have while they’re dining in your restaurant. It could be fun, trendy, sophisticated, upscale, irreverent, serious, playful, or some combination of these. Whatever that feeling is, that’s what you want to evoke on Instagram. You want viewers to look at the picture and be able to tell instantly that it came from your restaurant. And the way you do this is to establish a consistent color palette, focus, and tone of voice for your entire IG feed.

Once you’ve identified the vibe, ask yourself what colors this makes you think of. You can include those colors with backdrops or by using specific props. As for the verbiage, try to cultivate a single tone of voice that keeps your brand concept in mind. You’re going for consistency, so ask yourself “does this sound like my brand voice” with each caption you write.

Find the Light

Natural light is always best, especially if you don’t have access to special lighting equipment. So, find a window and perch near it. Pull tables to you rather than going to a table with less-flattering light. Overhead light will cast harsh shadows and can make food look sweaty or greasy. Light that’s too dim doesn’t allow the food to pop and can look grainy in photos. For that reason, it’s best to shoot in the daytime near a natural light source.

Use Editing Tools

You don’t need a pre-formatted filter to make a picture look great. But editing tools are usually a must for making your photos look their best. VSCO is an app that offers a range of editing options, including altering the lighting, contrast, sharpness, and the alignment of the image. One of the best ways to get familiar with this app is to take a picture and mess around with it until it looks great. There is an infinite number of ways that you can edit any one photo, and there’s no right answer--remember this is all subjective--so, find what works well for you.

If there is a particular filter or combination of edits that really evokes the look and vibe of your brand, make a note of what it is (or bookmark it) so you can use the same process every time. It will save you time in the editing process and will lend a consistent look to your feed.

Tell a Story

In order to make the viewer feel like they’re at your restaurant, you want to tell a believable story through your images. Stories are complicated, intricate, and unique. Consider adding props to the table that make it look like guests are enjoying a meal--maybe it’s a folded up newspaper with a half-finished crossword or a pair of sunglasses. Set the stage so that the viewer feels like they can jump right into the scene you’ve created.

Bowl of Pad ThaiBig Batch It

Creating great images with engaging captions can take a lot more time than it seems like it might. For that reason, it can be useful to set up a staging area with great light, clean props, and many menu items to be shot all at once. This could be done prior to a waitstaff tasting meeting or when cooks are practicing menu items. Or, you can set up a special time to shoot the food off-hours and then share the meal with friends or staff as a special perk.

Capture as many images as you can of each dish. Move the dish to different seating areas of the restaurant (still with good light though!), and shoot it on different surfaces, such as the bar. Mix and match dishes to create a full tablescape, and shoot a mix of two-tops, four-tops, etc to give yourself a mix of scenarios to choose from.

Start with the dish in its completed form, and then play around with taking a bite or a twirl of pasta or a sprinkling of cheese to give the dish some context that makes the set-up feel ‘real'. Play around with different angles--overhead, from the side, etc--so you’ll have a range to work with in your editing phase.

Captions Matter

The verbiage you use in your copy is how you are directly communicating with the audience on Instagram, so you want it to be as descriptive and alluring as possible. You also want it to be accurate, and it’s important that your servers know about the items you’re posting so that when customers come in saying “I want the dish I saw on Instagram,” they can respond courteously and without confusion.

It’s Not Just Food

Look for memorable moments in your restaurant, from cool signage to cozy, sun-dappled nooks. Break up the monotony of dish after dish and set the scene for your would-be guests with images of the interior and exterior of your restaurant.

Get on a Schedule

Typically, posts that are shared between 3:00 and 5:00 pm Thursday through Sunday get a lot of eyeballs, so this is a good place to start. Try posting consistently at one time of day for a couple of weeks and pay attention to Instagram’s tracking tools for business pages. (If you use a third party posting platform, such as Later, this is incredibly easy, and you can time a month’s worth of Instagram posts in about an hour.) If you think your numbers are low, alter the timing for another two weeks, and compare your results. There is no magic time of day or special way to beat Instagram’s algorithms, it’s all trial and error and finding what works best for you.

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