What you can do to drive more diners from Instagram

Psychology driven restaurant Instagram marketing: a study in sandwiches

Bill's Sandwich Palace in Nashville is a brilliant case study in restaurant Instagram Marketing

Delicious Instagram photography

Delicious photography is key for your Instagram

Bill’s Sandwich Palace in Nashville is just a pop up, open for lunch on the weekends, and has only been operating for a few months.

Yet, they sell out every weekend.

As a sandwich enthusiast, their offering captivates me. But as a marketing guy, what they do on Instagram is just as impressive.

Here’s how Bill’s Sandwich Palace uses Instagram to drive restaurant sales and bring in new customers via word of mouth every time they open their doors.

Using FOMO, Fear Of Missing Out

Limited time sandwich offer

Limited time offers spur people to action

Bill’s Sandwich Palace (we’ll just call them “Bill” for short in this article), offers a rotating array of interesting, delicious sandwiches, having just a few options on the menu at a time.

And they only have so many sandwiches available per weekend.

So this creates huge FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) among their passionate diners (for full disclosure, I’ve quickly become a passionate diner there, but I have no relation to the company at all.)

They take advantage of this FOMO by announcing advanced sales, and hyping it up that way. They’ll post on Instagram that sales start at 10pm the night before they open, so people can go ahead and order, pay, and choose a pickup time, to make sure they get their precious sandwiches (that sounds sarcastic, but I mean “precious” like that critter from Lord of the Rings.)

Using psychology to pre-sell a good portion of your lunch rush the night before? Pretty clever!

Scarcity Tactics

I know all these sales-focused psychology tricks, yet Bill still gets me with them.

A couple weeks ago, they announced that their “Porky Pig” sandwich would be going away for a while, rotating off the menu, and that people should order one that weekend if they liked it, since they couldn’t have one again for a while.

That got me. I ordered the sandwich. Delicious.

Scarcity is related to FOMO, obviously. But if you can create scarcity in your offer, it encourages people to buy because there’s a time crunch there, and it makes them want to get the product while they still can.

How can you create scarcity with your menu items? It doesn’t just work for weekend pop-ups.

Hugh Baby’s is a small chain of fast food restaurants, with a focus on quality burgers and BBQ. On Fridays, they have a “Slug Burger”, which is a depression-era pork and soy/flour sandwich. But only on Fridays.

By having it be a consistent day of the week, slug burger fans now when to go over to Hugh Baby’s to get one. And by having it only one day a week, it encourages scales with the scarcity tactic, as slug burger aficionados know that if it’s Friday and if they’re wanting a slug burger, they need to act NOW in order to get that sandwich.

Oh and of course McDonald’s is known for doing this with the occasionally available “McRib.”

Action idea: Whenever you’re rotating a seasonal or temporary item off the menu, post about it before it’s gone to encourage people to come in to get it while they can.

Quality so good that there’s word of mouth

Instagram comment tagging

When people start tagging other people in your comments, that's a great sign that you've got some virality

This isn’t really psychology at all, it’s just the best kind of marketing.

Bill’s sandwiches are so good that they encourage word of mouth. And with Instagram, word of mouth means sharing pictures, which is free marketing for your place.

How can you encourage social media word of mouth for your restaurant?

If you’ve got a physical dine in location, a sign up front that encourages diners to post a picture to Instagram may help get it into their mind to do so. (And I know that this is sort of cringe-worthy, and not all restauranteurs are into seeing diners letting their food get a little bit cold in order to snap pics, but it’s a brave new world, and people do this, so you might as well use it to your advantage.)

Take it a step further, and really encourage those plate posts by saying “tag us in your social media post and we’ll give a $50 gift certificate every month to whoever has the best picture.” $50 is cheap for all the local exposure you could get, and since it’s essentially people recommending to their followers (who probably Know, Like and Trust them), it’s more motivating than seeing a cold ad for your restaurant. And you know you couldn’t get very far with $50 in ad spend anyway!

Do you only do take out and delivery? Take that same offer and put it on your bags. Ordering a stamp with the message on it can make it a really cheap and easy way to print onto the bags, much faster than stapling a flyer to the bag, as you can just stamp them all before opening.

Action Item: Be clear that you want your diners to share a picture on Instagram! Put up a sign or include a note.

Excitement about new offers

By creating raving fans, and combining that with a rotating menu (for FOMO, Scarcity), Bill’s social media followers can get excited about new sandwiches that are coming out, and spread the word then. Essentially, free marketing for new dishes.

In my own experience, my sister (who lives 45 minutes south of Bill’s Sandwich Palace), will text me to ask if I’ve seen the new sandwich for the weekend. Keep in mind, she’s only eaten there once, but the quality of the sandwich combined with how well they do marketing on Instagram means that a one-time diner is now a social media follower, who is consistently being exposed to the branding and offers by Bill.

And by whipping up excitement about a new sandwich offer, it will drive traffic to the restaurant, and sales.

And even if people aren’t as nuts as I am for their sandwiches and don’t quite get to a level that could be construed as “excitement”, just posting often about what your restaurant offers can help keep you in front of mind and bring repeat diners back, and expose your business to new potential diners.

Action idea: Any time you have a special dish or drink, post about it.

Beating the algorithm

In the old days, Instagram users would just see everything posted by the accounts they followed, in order of when it was posted.

But now the feed is smarter, algorithm based, and that algorithm’s job is to figure out what’s captivating and what people will like the most, and then show that to them, rearranging the content of what they follow.

Signals to the algorithm tells it that a certain post is more valuable, and worth being shown. These signals include likes as well as comments and activity.

One thing Bill does well is responding to all the comments, with at least a Like, if not an actual text reply.

Sure, that can take up a lot of time, but we’ll explain the psychology behind why it’s great below, and in the meantime, just now that being active on Instagram beyond the initial post can really help how many people see your content.

Quality photography

Photography so good it gets shared and people tag others. That’s the key here.

Having your followers tag their friends in your posts because your food just looks so good is free and effective marketing. And when it happens organically (because your food photography is beautiful), it's really powerful.

Food photography is an art in its own right, but you don’t need an art school degree to make it gram-worthy.

Action idea: Step up your game with a black background. Any modern iPhone or quality Android phone can take incredible pictures now. Post to your account, but also to your story (this gets you different exposure within the app).

Bill's your friend

Writing a love note on the ticket

I put in the "special requests" that I loved them, and they said they loved me too. My wife had questions...

Bill beats the algorithm by interacting with people, but beyond that, it’s creating a more personal connection.

As part of their branding, Bill’s Sandwich Palace calls everyone “Bill.” Now, that’s kinda goofy, but it plays into their overall style. And it’s kind of charming.

By being interactive on Instagram, they seem more caring, and certainly people want to buy from a company that seems more caring, more nice, and likely to actually interact with you.

In a time when you may not be able to actually go dine in a restaurant and make connections like we could pre-pandemic, being able to connect with diners in a small way on Instagram can make a big difference.

Action idea: Take the time to respond to comments on your Instagram. Actively encourage people to come in when they say something positive about your posts.

Have you made a real connection with your restaurant clients? Give (or sell!) them a shirt!

Any restaurant with a passionate following should be selling shirts to their clients.

Shirts are “walking billboards” and should be part of your marketing arsenal.

They’re cheap enough that you can give them away to your VIP diners, or as part of contests or reward programs.

And they’re cheap enough that you can have a nice margin on them if you do sell them to diners!
And of course they make handsome, affordable uniforms for your staff.

Vacord Screen Printing prints quality shirts using soft inks for reasonable prices. And we now offer private merch stores which makes it super easy for you to re-order the shirts you need for your restaurant.

Interested in using Vacord for shirts, hoodies or tote bags for your restaurant? Check out our site, talk to us for pricing or see an example merch reordering store.