Instagram for Scottish restaurants: a primer.


In this blog, we've outlined some of the ways that restaurants, hotels, F&B and hospitality businesses in Scotland (and beyond!) can use Instagram to boost awareness and sales. If you don't know us, then - hi! We're Walnut Wasp, a creative agency based in Glasgow who love to help food and beverage businesses (from restaurants to international whisky brands to breweries and bakeries) to market themselves!

Instagram is an incredible tool for brick-and-mortar food and beverages like restaurants, hotels and bars. Most of your competition are already using it to varying degrees, and with mixed results - but there’s no doubt that it can be used cheaply to produce a significant uplift in business. Here’s a quick look at our top tips for using Instagram for your F&B establishment to drive business and find new customers.

1 - Turn your existing customers into ambassadors.

Firstly, social is a two-way street. Instagram should drive your customers to your establishment - and your establishment should also drive your customers to your Instagram. A quick, cheap and incredibly effective way of getting some local buzz on Insta, is to make sure that your existing customers are talking about you online. You should experiment with in-house collateral - printed table cards, signage, chalkboards, etc. - to encourage punters to check in on Instagram, with pictures of their dinner, or a selfie, or a cocktail shot, or whatever. If possible, it’s really helpful to offer some kind of incentive that encourages the customer to do so - e.g. a regular voucher giveaway for the best photo on Instagram that tags your business. It’s a really sensible and economical way of getting your name out to local people on Instagram - and you benefit from the word-of-mouth endorsement into the bargain. Just make sure that to qualify for any incentives, your customers are tagging you and also checking into your location, and make sure that they understand that their accounts must be public in order to be seen by your judge!  

The take-home:

Your regulars are a captive audience for your in-house marketing. Use that to encourage them to take to Instagram and shout about you on your behalf - even if it means bribing them! 

2 - Use Instagram to listen to, and interact with, your local audience - and identify influencers.

Firstly - it’s so obviously social media 101, but you should use your account to ask questions of your customers, for so many reasons. Firstly, asking an interesting question in a post on Instagram will naturally see an uplift in interactivity. People will in fact answer you - and that’s a good thing. That tells Instagram that you’re posting interesting content, and doing this regularly and successfully over time means you’ll hopefully perform better in terms of your visibility, and you may even make it on to the discover page if you regularly succeed in posting high-engagement posts. But also - having that direct relationship with not only your regulars but your local market, means that you can ask constructive and beneficial questions that will help you to develop the business itself. It’s free market research. 

Also - Instagram is a great listening tool, that will really help you to understand what’s on the mind of your prospective audience. It’s really easy to see what people in your local market are talking about on Instagram - just search under the location header for your locality. There, you’ll instantly see what’s the talk of the town, who’s making waves, etc. - and this might help you to act accordingly. You’ll also be able to chat to those folk that are checking in locally, comment on their posts, and just draw their attention to the fact that you exist. People will naturally be curious about who’s commenting on their posts, and they’ll click through to your account and give you a quick look. Can’t hurt, right? You should also make sure that you’re appearing regularly in your local feed search results - to do this, all you need to do is make sure to include your location on every post. This means if people search for your restaurant name as a location, all your images will of course appear - but it also means that if people search your town name as a location, your images should appear as well.

Crucially, you’ll be able to identify Instagrammers in your local area that are doing well - accounts with high follower numbers, or great engagement numbers - and you can make a special effort to engage with them, and build relationships. Offer them a free meal in exchange for a shout-out, or send them a hamper and tell them you love their account. Depending on your location, we might be talking about approaching legit Instagram influencers - folk with say 20k+ followers who are nailing social and already endorsing brands regularly - or we might be talking about a far more niche approach. Even just people with a good following who live locally and appear to be popular and influential could work. Ultimately, the goal is to establish good relationships with people who already have the attention of your local market. It doesn’t matter if they’re a TV personality or a beloved local nutter - this is a strange new world, and if they can help you reach a new audience then that’s what matters.

The take-home:

Soak up all the info you can about your local audience - and make the most influential people in your town your friends!


3 - Post awesome photography, consistently.

The lifeblood of any brick-and-mortar F&B business is good quality photography. If you’re going to invest in one single aspect of your marketing, then start with this. Don’t have the FOH staff do this on their iPhone - this is serious business.

How do you find the right professional food photographers? I’ll resist the urge to say “you’re looking at ‘em!” and instead make some helpful and less self-serving suggestions: look at what your competitors are doing, and look at what the best people in the market are doing. Try and suss out who’s shooting their stuff - it’ll often be credited on their social feeds, or alternatively the photographer may have blogged about the project, so you could also search for “-competitor’s name- photography” and see if you get lucky. Ask for recommendations, and don’t be afraid to use social to do a call-out for suggestions. And when you get your photographer - make sure that the stuff that they shoot is the stuff you want to sell, and that it best represents your differential elements. 

If you are in fact going to get the front of house staff to tackle this on their iPhone, then fine - hell mend ye - but at least try the following basics. Firstly, shoot them using natural light if at all possible. Take the subject to a clean, uncluttered table near a window, and shoot it there. Also, resist the urge to overly saturate or edit the images. Instagram filters are probably not what you need - nice balanced light and a good looking dish will be the best thing for you. 

We're actually working on a really helpful blog on smartphone photography for restaurants - it even includes a pretty damn useful instructional video. You should totally check it out so that we don't have to look at your shitty photos from the pass anymore. Follow us on Instagram and we'll tell you when it's ready!

The take-home:

Don’t cheap out on your photography. Your customers can’t taste your food through Instagram, so they have to taste it with their eyes. Make sure it’s as delicious as it can be. 

4 - Give us a peek behind the curtain with Instagram Stories

People like to buy from people. And whilst I don’t love the idea of you filling up your grid with daft videos of the staff in the kitchen or pulling drinks or dancing and goofing off, Instagram Stories are another story entirely. Stories is a great place to document all of the fun of the day - you post it and then in 24 hours it’s gone, so I don’t think the same jeopardy or standards exist. The production values bar is lower, so you should go nuts - depending of course on what kind of establishment you are. There’s obviously a big difference between the tone of an Instagram story by a hipster doughnut haven and a five star hotel - but with each of those businesses, there’s room to give us a sense of the processes etc. and there’s also room to feature some of the fun personalities that work there. 

Instagram Stories are also a good place to keep people extremely up to date with things like menu specials, or flash deals. Using it to broadcast totally up-to-date information will encourage people to keep tuning in - which keeps your brand front and centre. It also allows you to take things like a signature dish, and really explore it with multiple posts - annotating it and drawing attention to different elements. There’s loads you can do, and it’s a great way to make it into the regular feeds of your followers - a second bite at the cherry in a way, since you may not appear in their timelines depending on the number of people they follow.

The take-home:

Instagram Stories are a great outlet for the day to day stuff that doesn’t necessarily make it into your shop window.


5 - Focus on good quality local hashtags, not generic international ones.


Having your photos Liked by hundreds of people worldwide feels good. It doesn’t bring in a penny in business if you’re a brick-and-mortar business, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. So - fine, use big international hashtags with loads of posts such as #foodporn. But, whilst hopefully your competitors are content with that strategy, you should spend time and energy researching good quality local hashtags. 

I would define a good quality local hashtag as one that gets good visibility and a healthy number of posts, but not so many that your stuff is never seen by anybody. Here’s one way to try and identify them: look at what your local influencers are using, and if there are any overtly local-themed hashtags in there, then click through to them and have a look around to see what type of posts are using this hashtag, and how regular they are. If the last post to use this hashtag was a few seconds ago, it’s probably a really busy international one that will invite a lot of spam. If the last post was six days ago, then it’s probably not being used by anyone except that influencer and a handful of other people. But there’s a sweet spot in between - several posts a day, but not a slew - that would qualify it as a potentially useful local hashtag. Well - start adding it to your hashtag repertoire, and let’s see.

Local hashtags don’t have to be bang on theme. If you’re a Glasgow-based restaurant, then you don’t have to be combining the two. Decent Glasgow hashtags like #glasgowlive are totally fine. 

The take-home:

Local interest is the only interest that matters for brick and mortar F&B businesses (except in cities that are busy with international tourism). So - go deeper on your hashtag research. 

6 - Tell a story, with your differential qualities front and centre.

If you’ve read our blog before then you’ve likely heard us bang on about brand differentiation. Our theory - which is a theory in the sense that gravity is a theory - is that your marketing value lies in where you differ from your competition. We think it’s more or less the most important thing we have to say about marketing, so if you’re new to the blog then you can get up to speed here.

So anyway, I guess here’s the point as it relates to Instagram: you’ll hopefully have a set of differential qualities that make your business different from the competition in your area. So - use Instagram to bring those qualities to life, and to hammer them constantly. If you do the best burgers in town, then show your audience pornographic burger shots morning, noon and night. If your bar is all about awesome cocktails, then get them front and centre. Focus on the stuff that makes you you

The take-home:

Focus on the stuff that makes you different from everybody else. 

We work with Scottish food and beverage businesses every day to help them create awesome collateral, from Highland Park Whisky and Drygate Brewery to Equis Ice Cream, Big Bear Bakery, Papamacs Gourmet Kitchen and more. If there's something we can help you with, don't hesitate to get in touch.