What Can We Learn from Well-Loved Restaurants on Social Media?

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Food, glorious food. Oliver Twist knew what he was missing out on. It’s the main joy in many a person’s life, and the availability, variety and quality of food has never been better. While that is great news for the eating public, it does create a lot of competition in the 700 billion dollar restaurant industry.

While most of us grew up thinking that food was there to be eaten, in recent years it’s become apparent that food is quite obviously there to be photographed and shown to your friends and acquaintances on the internet. This torrent of food-based material has resulted in the food sector becoming one of the most successful industries on social media in the world. And a few big players are leading the charge.


While fast food giants such as McDonalds, Pizza Hut, KFC and Subway are always going to have the largest audiences (for those playing at home, they each have 50+ million followers apiece across their social platforms), what does “well-loved” actually mean? For the purpose of this article, the term “well-loved” doesn’t simply mean an account with a lot of followers, but rather an account with a lot of engaged followers.

By looking at engagement numbers, you can get a sense of the restaurants who focus on quality over quantity when it comes to their social media interactions. And these are the accounts that anyone in the restaurant business, be they a fast food chain, a family restaurant, or a neighbourhood snack bar, can learn a lot from.

Looking at Sprinklr’s analysis of a few of the largest social media players in the retail food market, it quickly becomes obvious that size doesn’t equal engagement. McDonald’s, for example, has a whopping 83+ million followers across social media. But at last check, just two percent of them were actively engaging with the brand. The same can be said for most large chains, with an average engagement rate for the industry of just three percent. There are, however, some notable exceptions.

With over 15 million followers, US chain Applebee’s has a stunning engagement rate of almost 10 percent; over three times the industry average. Another US chain, Wingstop, currently sits slightly under 1 million followers, but has an almost unheard of 30 percent engagement ratio; 10 times the industry average. What are these well-loved restaurants doing differently to everyone else?

The answer is one that spells good news for small restaurant operators. The more successful social players in the restaurant industry all have one thing in common – they do their best to come across as “local” and “connected” as possible.

Applebee’s have made an art form of replying to as many customer comments and queries as possible, often with local slang or with a reference to a particular store. It makes the audience feel as though they’re speaking to a person just a few blocks over, rather than a faceless social media intern at head office. This encourages engagement, as the audience feel as though they’re getting genuine, honest answers.


Wingstop’s strategy is slightly different. Rather than appearing local, they are simply small enough (‘small’ being 900 stores. It’s America. Everything’s big) to carve out a very specific customer niche; one that they’ve spent a lot of time analysing and understanding. The standard Wingstop customer, it appears, is a sports-mad, America lovin’ dude, and the voice and content that they use on their social accounts reflects that beautifully. The result? One in three of their followers actively engages with the brand.

So what does this mean for you, the somewhat smaller-time restaurateur? The lessons from these well-loved restaurants are there for all to see. If you’re a local, family restaurant, be sure to play that card. Mention local events. Use local personalities to drive interest in your business. Start conversations about local issues, tying in your restaurant all the while.

And if you’re a restaurant that has a very specific feel, ensure that your social media activity reflects your customer base. Post content that your clientele will find interesting, and use a voice that they’ll find engaging. Reference their likes, avoid their dislikes, and create social media promotions that speak directly to them.

Your food, no doubt, is delicious. It’s now up to you to capitalise on social media, and get a slice of that 700 billion dollar pie.

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