7 Restaurants That Are Crushing Instagram Marketing (And How You Can Too)

The food and beverage industry has had a wild couple of years. Forced closures from lockdowns have left many restaurants under-staffed or struggling to keep their head above water.

Luckily, there is some light at the end of the tunnel – especially with the big-spending holiday season on the horizon.

Instagram is arguably the most effective social media platform for restaurants due to its visual nature. In fact, the engagement rate for content on Instagram in the Food & Beverage sector is dramatically higher than either Facebook or Twitter.

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Food & Beverage Social Media Engagement

Instagram marketing helps restaurants increase their brand awareness, drive more foot traffic through the door, and strengthen relationships with current customers. It’s a must-have!

However, it’s not an easy platform to master. The algorithm is often changing – with new content types and tactics being preferred. To help refine your strategy, I’ve identified seven restaurants that are crushing it on Instagram that you can draw inspiration from. Let’s dive in.

Find out how ShortStack helps restaurants bond with their customers here.

1. Little Caesars

We kick off the list with America’s third-largest pizza chain – Little Caesars.

This restaurant has a memorable orange logo depicting Julius Caesar eating a piece of pizza. It’s so iconic because it is… extremely orange. You can’t miss it.

This in-your-face color vibrance is represented in the Little Caesars Instagram feed, which is why it made this list.

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Little Caesars Instagram Profile

It’s an orange-out! Every piece of content in this feed has either an orange background or a splash of orange that catches your eye. It’s truly on-brand and memorable.

Consider how you want to represent your brand on Instagram and take into account the power of colors for catching people’s attention.

2. Panda Express

Next up is Panda Express – an American Chinese food chain with over 2,000 locations around the country.

The main thing I like about the Panda Express Instagram strategy is its use of video content – something that is trending on Instagram at the moment. They use videos to promote meals on their menu as well as educate customers about their produce.

This video about the fresh red peppers they use, for example, has over 10,000 views:

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A Panda Express Video on Instagram

Another thing that drew me to Panda Express was its use of hashtags. They use a range of branded hashtags, such as #PandaLNY, #PandaFam, and #PandaCaresDay to categorize content and engage with their customers on certain topics:

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Panda Express’ Use of Hashtags on Instagram

If you come up with a memorable branded hashtag that your customers use in their personal posts on Instagram, it creates a lot of goodwill for your brand.

3. The Pickle Barrel

The Pickle Barrel is a popular Canadian restaurant chain that started in Toronto back in 1971. Its old-school tenure hasn’t stopped it from being a standout on Instagram.

One thing that is working for this brand is its giveaways. For example, to celebrate its 50th anniversary they are giving away free Pickle Barrel for a year, plus a range of smaller on-the-go prizes to entice entrants. The giveaway posts get thousands of likes and plenty of comments to raise brand awareness.

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Instagram Giveaway by The Pickle Barrel

Instagram giveaways are one of the best ways to engage with your followers, grow your reach, and collect leads for your restaurant. With ShortStack’s builder, they’re also super-easy to create!

Pickle Barrel is also good at making the most of trending hashtags that are aligned with its brand. For example, the hashtag #RealFreshFood is prominently featured in its Stories Highlights section:

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How The Pickle Barrel Leverages Instagram Hashtags

The takeaway? Don’t only rely on branded hashtags to engage with your audience. Expand your reach by identifying a select few popular hashtags to use in your posts, too.

4. Chili’s

For many Americans, Chili’s is a staple restaurant for family outings. Its Instagram feed uses a mix of pop culture, branded messaging, and humor to connect with its audience. More than anything, it’s the humor that stands out as unique. Like this quirky joke about Ranch Dressing and Star Wars:

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Humor on Chili’s Instagram

They also run regular giveaways. The thing that makes their approach to Instagram giveaways unique is how they promote them on Reels as well. It’s a smart tactic given the trending interest in that style of content at the moment. They’ll find just about any excuse for a giveaway to engage with their followers, like this “National Hair Day” Reel:

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Instagram Giveaway Promoted on Reels

My big learning from Chili’s is to layer your content with personality. At the end of the day, you want people to relate to your brand, so make it relatable! Of course, not every brand needs to be humorous or tap into pop culture like Chili’s, but find your unique voice and let it shine.

5. Pinkberry

When I first visited a Pinkberry restaurant, it was an experience I’ll never forget. The concept of topping up your frozen yogurt with ingredients of your choice was novel (to me at least). The hero of this brand is its product – the food – and that’s what its Instagram feed is all about.

Each photo, video, Reel, or Story on the Pinkberry Instagram uses a consistent style and color palette with its frozen yogurt front and center.

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Pinkberry’s Instagram Feed

I also like Pinkberry’s use of the Highlights section on its profile page. Each category has a custom image with a pink background – so it’s on-brand – and the categories give viewers the information they’re looking for in an easily digestible format.

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Pinkberry’s Stories Highlights

One Highlights category to take note of is the “Fan Photos.” There is nothing more powerful than your customers singing your praises with user-generated content:

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User-Generated Content from Pinkberyy

All-in-all Pinkberry is doing the Instagram basics very well. The basics are something your restaurant can’t underestimate. Hero your product, create a consistent theme, and utilize all of Instagram’s best features.

6. In-N-Out Burger

Now for one of the country’s most iconic burger restaurants – In-N-Out Burger. Famous for its “not-so-secret” menu, simple ordering process, and fantastic burgers.

When it comes to Instagram, In-N-Out does a stellar job of referring to its brand history and reputation by creating a sense of nostalgia through old photos and retro themes. They use the hashtag #innouthistory to take viewers back in time:

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Historical Post by In-N-Out Burger on Instagram

Don’t be afraid to share the roots of your brand with your followers. It creates a meaningful connection and makes you more relatable.

Another thing you’ll notice about In-N-Out’s Instagram approach is the use of games. Games are becoming more and more popular on Instagram because they are an excellent way to increase engagement on posts and encourage viewers to comment. Here are two examples:

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An Example of Instagram Games by In-N-Out Burger

If you want to increase engagement on your Instagram account, easy-selection games, like the ones above, are perfect.

7. Arby’s

While other restaurants on this list use Reels, Arby’s does it better than most. In fact, I’d say Reels are the foundation of their entire Instagram strategy.

All of Arby’s Reels feature products with a bit of humor and fun, splashed with its iconic red brand color. While some Reels are purely designed to promote new products, like this one:

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An Arby’s Reel to Promote a New Product

Others are more about follower engagement with the use of fun food-based challenges and games – like creating a saucy basketball ring with Arby’s packaging and shooting a Jalapeno Bite into it!

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An Arby’s Reel to Engage With Customers

When you’re planning your content for Instagram, don’t forget Reels – they can be a lot of fun and the engagement rate is astronomical compared with other forms of content at the moment.

Recap – Instagram Marketing for Restaurants

Here’s a quick recap of the top strategies being used by restaurants on Instagram:

  • Make every post on-brand with a consistent color palette, theme, and personality
  • Use hashtags (both branded and trending) to connect with a broader audience
  • Utilize all that Instagram has to offer, including video content, Reels, Stories, Highlights, and more
  • Be creative with the content you create to increase follower engagement with tactics such as games, puzzles, and giveaways
  • Shine a light on your happy customers with user-generated content

What could you do to take your restaurant’s Instagram profile to the next level?

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