How To Host an Influencer Marketing Event at Your Restaurant

Word of mouth marketing before the rise of social used to work like this:

“Hey, you gotta try the calzone at Tramonti in the East Village. Trust me, you’ve never had anything like it!”

.. and then your friend would go  eat it, find out you were right and hopefully tell a whole bunch of their friends. If you got really lucky, the local newspaper / radio or tv station mentioned the restaurant in print / on air.

Today, word of mouth works looks much more like this.

If you’re really good at it, it can also look like this:

You are reading that correctly, 32,250 engagements from only 5 influencers!

Working with influencers to raise awareness about your restaurant, bar or catering service is an incredibly powerful way to connect with other hungry people who live or work near your restaurant.

In fact, according to Hubspot 71% of consumers are more likely to purchase based on social media referrals.

The key factor here is that it has to come from an influencer, not the brand itself.

A study by MuseFind revealed that 92% of buyers trust an influencer more than they would an advertisement.

Keep in mind, you’ll be asking them to make sure they post at least once about the meal within a week of dining so people are likely to get multiple impressions in a short amount of time. This will drive awareness and immediacy from hungry customers.

Chances are, most influencers have a bigger and more engaged following than your restaurant does on social media, that is unless you have an incredible budget or are a major band like Taco Bell. Nonetheless, even more reason to work with influencers to build trust in your brand.

Now that you’ve decided that influencer marketing is right for you,
how do you do it?

There’s a number of blogs and media outlets that will give you some clues on how to connect with influencers or what to do with them once they walk through your door. I even have a blog post you can read entitled The Do’s and Dont’s of Food Influencer Marketing. You can go look at those if you need those tips.

I’m going to give you a step by step guide on how to have an influencer tasting happen at your restaurant. This is when a group of influencers come in for one big meal and then all start sharing content about your food and restaurant at the same time.

The effect is to create that “everywhere” appearance which drives impressions with consumers. The more they see your brand, the more they remember it and if they like the, the more urgency you’ll create in getting them to check out your restaurant.

GETTING STARTED

WORK WITH AN AGENCY

There are lots of great agencies out there that offer or even specialize in influencer marketing and tasting events. They’ve already done all the legwork. They already have a list of influencers they trust to deliver. They already know how to help you run a smooth event.

Find one, hire them and get to sharing that tasty food you’ve worked so hard to create. Chances are they will want you to commit to a larger campaign with a 12 month contract, rather than just do a one off event.

If you have the budget and can tie these tastings into a larger overall campaign, this could be a really great way for you to do this. If you don’t have $5,000 – $10,000 a month to spend, then you’re going to need to look into another options.

WORK WITH AN INFLUENCER

Find an influencer who is willing to organize a group of colleagues to come in and experience what you have to offer. Make sure you work with someone who has experience doing this. You’ll need to make sure they are bringing the right influencers in that have an audience that will resonate with your food.

I’m gonna go ahead and stuff this photo featuring some of @HillCountryBBQ’s yummy Thanksgiving sides into your feed in honor of 💢NATIONAL STUFFING DAY💢. Their ✨ TEXAS TOAST✨ stuffing is truly memorable! Are you bready for Thanksgiving? 💁🏽‍♀️❤️🦃🦃🦃 . 🙏🏽: I’m super grateful to @type2creative x @FoodBank4NYC for hosting a fabulous Friendsgiving last night. Def check out @HillCountryBBQ for all your turkey day needs. Also check out @FoodBank4NYC to learn more about how to give back. 💕❤️💕 . . . . . . #YeahFoodBeer #YelpEatsNYC #foooodieee #myfab5 #zagat #eatingfortheinsta #fwx #BeautifulCuisines #eater #eatmunchies #yahoofood #feedfeed #nyceeeeeats #eaterny #foodpornography #NewForkCity #heresmyfood #FoodBeast #HuffpostTaste #forkyeah #eatfamous #refinery29 #tastingtable #EatingNewYork #ForkFeed #timeoutnewyork #macandcheese #stuffing #pasta #thanksgiving

A post shared by 🦄🇵🇷 I’m Steph – Food+Travel 🚀🌎 (@yeahfoodbeer) on

Food influencers like to run in packs. Dining is a social experience and food is better when it’s shared. Plus, more people means more dishes which means more photos and for you, that’s more content they can share about your restaurant.

A large advantage to having a group influencers come together, rather than individually, is that you’ll get what I call the thunder clap. As they have all built sizable local followings and you’ll get a lot of exposure all at once.

You’ll also want them to help you organize the production of the event. Most importantly, you’ll need to rely on them to make sure the other influencers share the food with their followers, tag you in the photos, add your geotag and use any relevant hashtags.

That’s a lot to do and you’ll be asking a lot of them. They will essentially be working as if they were an employee or a contractor for your business. It’s rather common for these people to get paid to do this. Sometimes they even offer smaller sub-payments to the influencers that attend.

Regardless, it’s often cheaper than working with an agency and you can do it as a one-off event. Typically an agency will want a year-long or multi-month contract.

Expect to pay $500 – $1500 for an influencer event. If that’s not in your budget, you can do it yourself. It is a heck of a lot of work, but the guide below will give you all the instructions you need to make it successful.

HOW TO RUN A SUCCESSFUL
INFLUENCER TASTING EVENT

You’re smart. You’re hard working. You’re good with people. You’re also frugal and want to try your own hand at this. I get it. I used to be an owner in a bar / restaurant and I used to think the same thing. That’s how I learned how this all works. It’s not easy but here’s your guide:

Find influencers
Search social media for relevant food influencers in your area. You can check hashtags, geotags for popular restaurants, use a search engine or ask your friends for connections. Often times these people want to be found so it won’t be hard.

Schedule
Determine the right day and time. Best bet is to do something at least 4 weeks in the future.

Most influencers, at least the ones who have a built and engaged audience, are booked out weeks in advance. Keep in mind, most of these people have day jobs, so you’re going to have to give up some tables at prime dining times.

Be prepared to change the date and time based on their availability.

Capacity
Determine a capacity. How many people can you effectively serve at once? I’ve seen influencer events with 20, 30, even 50 people. If not handled correctly, these can get out of control. Tempers can flare and you can end of doing more damage than it’s worth to have the event.

Best way to start out is with something you know you could manage on a regular night in the restaurant; 4-6 people. Most influencers prefer a more intimate setting which allows for more talking, enjoyment and sharing of lights, angles, and helping each other to set up shots.

More than that and you risk hosting what I call a “feeding frenzy.” This is when a number of influencers are grabbing plates, hiding away from others, fighting for a turn and generally just becoming unruly. Influencers with large accounts won’t even attend these. You’re best off just avoiding.

The food
Come up with a menu. What is it that you want to showcase? What is the most instagrammable dish on your menu?

The goal here is engagement so make sure you choose at least one dish that just lights up on its own in front of a camera. If your signature dish is something that just doesn’t naturally look great on camera (casserole, soup, dips), make sure it’s served in an eye pleasing scenario by having a nice place setting or an interesting / unique bowl or dish.

Another thing to consider when choosing dishes to serve with the goal of sharing on social media is to attract customers for something that may not be what you are primarily known for. Maybe you’re a pizzeria but have a steak that’s out of this world or most people think of you as a neighborhood bar but you have an amazing backyard that’s available for private parties.

Who is having FunWithFries 🍟: @revciancio ・・・ Dear perfectly cooked cowboy ribeye from @sanmatteocucina, you are so special to me. I could bake you a cake to say I love you I care. And even if it got smushed, id still love it because it was from you. . But let’s talk about those french fries. Holy smokes. Most steak joints and chop houses would serve the steak in its own juices, I have no problem with this. Chef @salumaio however, is genius. He adds thick cut steak fries to the dish and they soak up all the steak juices. The fries are done extra crispy so they don’t get soggy from sponging up the love and the result is one of the most awesome french fries you’ll ever have. . Trust me. . . . . #steak #steakdinner #steakhouse #🍖 #meat #steaknight #steaks #beef #beefeater #beefsteak #🐮 #🐄 #steakporn #steakclub7 #ribeye #ribeyesteak #ribeyesteaks #fries #frenchfries #frenchfry #frenchfryporn #funwithfries #dailyfries #allfriesgotoheaven #🍟 #steakfries #BeautifulCuisines #bestfoodworld #buzzfeast #cheatdayeats

A post shared by 🍟 French Fries, All Of Them. (@funwithfries) on

Consider including this as part of the tasting so that you can help become known for that other thing.

*Pro-tip: Read The 80/20 Rule of Restaurant Marketing That Five Guys Uses to Crush the Competition 

The drinks
Are you going to offer drinks to the influencers? If you don’t mind that influencers could drink as much top shelf liquor as they like or uncork the finest bottles of wine in your cellar, that’s great, they will love it.

However, it’s recommended that you establish expectations in advance so you aren’t taking advantage of or end up inciting ill will.

One thing you should avoid is restricting orders to lower shelf items, well drinks or house wines. You are just going to look cheap and that’s not going to bare you any positive results. You are better off offering no drinks as part of the tasting.

A better way to go is to offer a limit on the quantity of drinks (ex: 2-3 drinks per person). That way everyone knows in advance what to expect.

A really classy way to do this is have a specific tasting or pairing menu that features a special house wine, craft beer or cocktail that you are known for. On the day of the event, if someone comes in and doesn’t like what you offer on the tasting menu, allow them to substitute something of equal or lesser value.

Invites
Send out invites to the influencers you would like to come to your tasting. Be sure to include all the important things about the tasting including:

  • Name of restaurant
  • Date
  • Time
  • Link to website
  • Link to social media
  • What they will be tasting
  • Any other relevant information.

Keep it short. You do not need to include a full press release, a chef bio or photos. Just what they need to know and include next steps on how you want them to RSVP. If you need a deadline for planning purposes, be sure to include it as well.

Confirmation
Once an influencer is interested and RSVP’s for your dinner, have a response ready. It could be as simple as thanking them for the confirmation and that you are looking forward to meeting them. If there is any pertinent information they may need, be sure to include it.

It’s a common practice for restaurants and agencies to ask influencers to post something from the meal within one week of dining. Influencers most likely expecting this so it’s OK to say:

“We ask that you please post one photo of the food within a week after attending while tagging @screenname and geo-tagging Restaurant name.”

It’s also helpful to include what will be served at the tasting, including drinks and or parameters for the bar.

Compensation
What? You thought this was all for free? These people have spent countless hours, days, weeks, months and years creating a public persona and attracting these audiences. You’re asking them to take all that hard work and give you access for free?

Good luck, they might.

But once you start talking to influencers with more than 20,000 (or even 10,000) followers, it can be a common practice to pay them. Costs can be between $50 a post up to $1,500.

Use tools like Instagram Influencer Sponsored Post Money Calculator to determine the value of a post for each influencer.

Be prepared for influencers to ask for compensation. If you are only willing to offer the meal, that’s OK. Just be cordial and let them know. If you end up with no influencers attending or only ones with a smaller following, you’ll know why.

*Pro-tip: One way to make this easier is to just pay a flat fee to one influencer to organize the tasting for you, as per above. (I’d recommend it!)

The physical menu
Once you’ve finalized what you are going to serve, create a menu to print out and have on the tables.

Some influencers will take a picture of the menu and share it on their Instagram stories to show some excitement. More importantly, they keep that photo so they know the description of the food for when the post to their feed.

*Pro-tip: be sure to include your @screenname & any relevant hashtags on the menu.

Follow
Be sure you are following every influencer you’ve invited to the meal on the social media platform that you’re engaging them to share on. It’s seen as common courtesy and could also signal a reminder for them to follow you.

*Pro-tip: Follow their accounts BEFORE the meal.

Run of Show
I can’t recommend this enough; have a time table laid out in advance of when things are going to happen. Be sure to share it with our staff so everyone is on the same page.

Knowing the timing of things helps to have a smooth event. If it makes sense for the food you are serving, stagger their arrival at the show. Ultimately food influencers not only want to take great photos, they want to taste the food and hot if possible.

Cutting to the chase: the food @mainhousebbq is so good that if you were never told it’s all kosher, it would never even cross your mind. In fact, labeling it as “kosher bbq” isn’t even fair. It’s bbq that happens to be kosher. . It was all in point but what sent it home was the hot baked beans. It’s the BBQ version of cholent, a meat and beans stew that’s traditionally cooked on Shabbat. Because there is no cooking allowed on Shabbat, they created this to start slow cooking and be ready to eat by sundown the next day. . At main house it’s basically burnt ends with beans in a smoky sauce. It’s the one dish that really took this experience to a deliciously unique place. . You’ll be glad to know that the restaurant that took over Andrew Zurica’s Luncheonette, birthplace of @hard_times_sundaes, is paying homage to classic eats with their own unique twists. . Thanks to @eats_n_deets for putting the dinner together. . . . . #kosher #kosherfood #brisket #bbqnation #bbq #barbecue #meat #meats #allthemeats #burntends #fries #frenchfries #🍟 #🍖 #BeautifulCuisines #bestfoodworld #buzzfeast #cheatdayeats #cheatmeal #devourpower #eatfamous #eatingfortheinsta #eatmunchies #eeeeeats #f52grams #feastagram #feedfeed #foodgasm #funwithfries #fryday

A post shared by David “Rev” Ciancio 🍔 Burgers (@revciancio) on

If you are tasting a number of similar items like Burgers or Pizzas, you could bring them to the table one at a time. If it’s more of a formal meal or dinner, bring the dishes in groups that make sense like appetizers, then mains, then desserts. A good rule of thumb is that new dishes hit the table every 15 minutes.


Run of Show Example:

7:00 pm – Arrival

  • Guests are welcomed and shown to table
  • Server takes drink order, choice of one (1) cocktail (or draft beer or wine)

7:15 – First drink / dish served

  • Crispy Chicken Sliders –  (3 orders)

7:20 – 2nd drink order

  • Server takes drink order, choice of one (1) cocktail (or draft beer or wine)

7:35 – Second drink / dish served

  • Lobster & Shrimp Mac n Cheese (2 orders)

7:40 – 3rd drink order

  • Server takes drink order, choice of one (1) cocktail (or draft beer or wine)

7:55 – Third drink / dish served

  • Grass Fed Burger (2 orders)

8:15 – Server brings final tab to table

  • Influencers collect tips & work with server to get tabs paid

*Pro-tip: Have a dish or drink ready upon arrival. You’ll look like a star if you have a reception cocktail / drink!


Social marketing during the event
A lot of influencers enjoy to going live on Instagram and Snapchat during a tasting or share posts into their stories. Have someone logged in and online checking your restaurants social feed during the event.

Being able to like, comment, thank or respond in the moment shows that you value their time and efforts. It’s also a sign of great customer service and likely later when these influencers are telling their friends or family about the experience, they’ll talk about how nice everyone was and that they really cared about everyone’s experience.

The bill / gratuity
You staff is going to work hard, making sure the tasting runs smoothly and showing great customer service, just like they would for a regular customer. Because of this, they deserve gratuity regardless if the meal was comped. Any influencer who is coming in for a tasting should be willing to tip the server.

Your best bet is to bring a check at the end, even if the whole meal is being comped, and just zero it out or simply write “complimentary” on the bill. That way there is no guesswork on how much the total of the meal was and how much the tip should be. Here’s a great example of how to do it:

*Pro-tip: Some influencers would prefer to put a tip on a credit card. Be willing to run a $1 tab or perhaps charge for one small item. I will typically ask them to charge me for one drink just so that I can leave a friendly tip for the wait staff.

After the event
Once the tasting is over, your shot to really take advantage begins.

Night of / morning after:

  • Log in to your Instagram account and go to the mentions tab. Go into the stories from everybody that mentioned the brand and reply with the like or thumbs up or a heart or an appropriate food emoji, or whatever works for you to show appreciation.

Week after:

  • As you see posts from the tasting pop up, make sure you like the post. Then reply with a comment that’s at least five words.
    • Five words are considered the best practices for Instagram algorithm.

If you’re planning to do reposts, it is welcomed and encouraged. If you do, it’s important that you give the original content creator a mention in the text of the post by using the screen name and also adding them as a tag in the photo.

#Repost @eats_n_deets ・・・ Some Girls Want A Sugar Daddy. Some Chicks Settle For A Splenda Daddy. Me 🙋🏼‍♀️ I Just Need A Mac Daddy 🤭 . Great Time Dining With The #MunchMafia Crew 🙏 @Revciancio For Hosting 🙏
<============================> . 🔹
🔹 🔹Eats 📷 Mac-N-Cheese Burger || Cheddar Cheese With Truffle Mac. More Cheese. Diced Bacon
. .
<============================> .
🔸
🔸 🔸Deets 📍 @Jacksonhole35th #NYC
.
<=============================> #Eatsndeets #Macandcheese #Cheese #Burger #Sandwich #American #Food #Foodpics #NYCFood #Foodie #Goodeats #Foodstagram #Instafood #Foodintheair #Foodporn #Forkyeah #Foodofinstagram #Eeeeeats #Eatingfortheinsta #Lovefood #Eater #Nomnom #foodphotography #Foodshare

A post shared by jacksonhole35th (@jacksonhole35th) on

*Pro-tip: Use an app like “Repost for Instagram” for quick and easy ways to share user generated content to your Instagram profile. It’s worth spending the $4.99 to not have to have the screen name in the corner.

Tracking engagement
Why did you do this? It’s important to know what you got out of it.

If it was exposure, how many likes and comments did every single post that went up get? Did you gain any followers? In the 4 weeks after the event did you have an increase in sales of featured items?

Know what you want to get out of it before the event and be sure to track it when it’s over.

Does that sound like a lot?

That’s because it is and that’s why a lot of restaurants choose to let a marketing agency / PR firm handle it for them. Some of the more the savvy influencers can do this as well, just ask them.

Or ask me, I love organizing, running and even creating follow up reports!

EMAIL ME: influencer@yeahmanagement.com

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