10 Great Ways to Use Instagram for Restaurant Marketing

How should restaurateurs use Instagram for restaurant marketing? Well, what’s the newest trend hitting social media? Food porn. Yes, food porn. No need to be coy. You’ve heard the term by now. Food porn is a picture of a delectable meal that customers take and upload to social media to share, brag about, and drool over. Foodies and casual restaurant-goers alike are posting their “food porn” on Instagram and they’re sharing it with their networks in unprecedented numbers.

What’s the big deal? Amateur food photography provokes plenty of controversy. Some wannabe photographers go beyond snapping a quick shot with their smartphone and cross into the public behavioral no man’s land of standing on their chairs to get “aerial” food photos, plopping tripods on their tables, and allowing the flash to blind nearby patrons. If those breaches of etiquette aren’t enough to make you cringe, another worry is that not all social media users play nice. Some will tag a restaurant to publicly complain about its food or service. It’s no wonder a few high-profile restaurants prohibit Instagram and food photography. Instagram provides a seamless way to share filtered snapshots of life’s highlights, but like anything on the internet, it has attracted its share of bad actors. Online harassers, hackers, and scammers run rampant, but don’t let that scare you away from the Facebook-owned social network.

Instagram for Restaurant Marketing - Receive a Free Concussion

But like it or not, the trend is not going away. And despite what its critics may claim, Instagram can be a powerful tool for you. When handled and utilized correctly, Instagram and “food porn” truly are a restaurateur’s best friend. It goes beyond the food itself. Instagram can build your brand and create organic buzz. It allows you to connect directly with your guests and encourages engagement. Not convinced? Just take it from the following restaurants and their successful examples of how to use Instagram for restaurant marketing.

Using Instagram for Restaurant Marketing


Contests allow users to connect directly with the brand—specifically its food—in a personal, interesting way. Plus, the prizes generate buzz and goodwill.

1. Dunkin’ Donuts

Dunkin’ Donuts ran a campaign earlier this year called “UpgraDDe Your Sandwich.” People could share photos of their homemade lunches in need of a “Dunkin’ Donuts upgrade” on Instagram with the hashtag #UpgraDDe. Randomly selected participants received Dunkin’ Donuts gift cards.

Instagram for Restaurant Marketing - UpgraDDe Your Sandwich

2. Coyoacan Auténtica Comida Mexicana

Coyoacan Auténtica Comida Mexicana, a Mexican restaurant in Spain, launched a similar contest. The restaurant invited patrons to take any photo their imagination could dream up within the walls of the building—be it the food, the interior, or Grandpa enjoying his taco. They just needed to include the hashtag #restaurantecoyoacanpalma and they’d be eligible to win free appetizers or a dinner for two.

Instagram for Restaurant Marketing - Coyoacan Autentica Comida Mexicana

Interactive Menus

Not only does this idea encourage engagement, but it also creates a useful product for future guests that the restaurant did not have to build itself.

3. Comodo

Comodo, a Latin American restaurant in New York, produced a crowdsourced picture menu on Instagram—that means the menu was created entirely by its guests. Patrons took pictures of the dishes they ordered and uploaded them with the hashtag #comodomenu.

Instagram for Restaurant Marketing - Comodo's Interactive Menu

4. Brent’s Deli

Brent’s Deli in Los Angeles also set out to produce a crowdsourced picture menu on Instagram using the hashtag #BrentsMenu. Customers took pictures of the dishes they ordered and Brent’s Deli supplemented the Instagram menu with photos of their own as well.

Instagram for Restaurant Marketing - Brent's Deli in Los Angeles Crowdsourced Menu

Odd and Interesting Photo Opportunities

Odd and interesting photo opportunities become an experience for the guest. The method forges a fun, memorable link to the brand.

5. Margaritas Mexican Restaurant

Margaritas Mexican Restaurant, a small New Hampshire chain, introduced a new, limited-time menu, which doubled as a half mask/mustache.  Guests could hold the menu up to their face and take a fun, silly picture. The restaurant incorporated the quirky hashtag #NewMoustache so guests could easily search and identify other patrons who had uploaded photos as well.

Instagram for Restaurant Marketing - Margaritas Mexican Restaurant

6. Taco Bell

Taco Bell dumped their old slogan “Think outside the bun” for “Live más,” which means “live more.” Their Instagram promotion certainly encouraged loyal fans to get out and live by doing the craziest, most absurd, and interesting things with their new Doritos Locos Tacos in tow. Browsing through the hashtag #LiveMasContest and #TacoBell, you’ll see a range of creative and unusual photos including tacos on a sleeping baby, tacos on a pool table, enormous tacos, tacos eaten on a unicycle, tacos on a dog and tacos with an aerial silk artist.

Instagram for Restaurant Marketing - Doritos Locos Tacos

Behind-the-Scenes Looks

Creating a brand-official Instagram account and filling it with behind-the-scenes photos like in these examples can create a personal bond with guests that will make them love your brand, not just your food.

7. Roxy’s Grilled Cheese

Roxy’s Grilled Cheese in Boston maintains its own Instagram account that doubles as an awesome public relations tool. The staff uploads (and encourages customers to upload) just the right balance of mouthwatering food and good, clean fun. Pictures show inside, behind-the-scenes glimpses of food truck operations. The photos also let customers get immersed in the company culture and personality of the employees with things like the joke heart cookies (pictured) they gave out on Valentine’s Day.

Instagram for Restaurant Marketing - Roxy's Grilled Cheese

8. California Pizza Kitchen

California Pizza Kitchen maintains a very personal and humanizing Instagram account. Not only does it feature “VIP backstage pass” access into the world of the kitchen, it also includes exclusive photos that reveal new menu items to loyal fans and followers. They go further and celebrate holidays like Mother’s Day—they ran a #momswelove promotion and featured pictures of real, awesome moms.

Instagram for Restaurant Marketing - California Pizza Kitchen

Community and Culture

These open-ended promotions can position a brand in the public’s mind as more than a cup of coffee or a delectable dish. The brand is imagined as a movement or a way of life.

9. Starbucks

Starbucks asked its followers: “What do you want 5 more minutes of this summer?” They ran an Instagram promotion encouraging customers to take and upload pictures of anything that resonated in their hearts and memories as some of their most unforgettable, joyous moments of summer—along with the hashtag #5more.

Instagram for Restaurant Marketing - Starbucks

10. Wendy’s

Wendy’s “#GreatLate Baconator Challenge” has more to do with fitting in with the all-nighter crowd and less to do with selling the Baconator itself. All guests need to do is upload a photo of their (G-rated) late-night escapades with the hashtag #GreatLate for a chance to win a daily prize and the grand prize of a New York City trip for an iHeartRadio concert.

Instagram for Restaurant Marketing - Wendy's Great Late Challenge

Did you like these 10 examples? We hope you’re convinced Instagram is worthwhile regardless of the controversy, and you now have some solid ideas and inspiration to incorporate into your restaurant marketing plans. But contests, interactive menus, interesting guest experiences, behind-the-scenes looks, and community/cultural elements are just some of the ways you can use Instagram to engage directly with your fan base and enhance your bottom line. Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter for more examples from the industry and ways to use Instagram for restaurant marketing.