A perfectly oozing egg, chunky ripe green avocado atop crispy toast, the perfectly frothed latte or a glowing cocktail juxtaposed against a stunning sunset on a patio—these are the photos restaurants crave from fans on social media. Instagram, blogs posts or Yelp reviews are the new word-of-mouth marketing. This is what diners are looking at when choosing where to eat.
It’s no surprise, then, that restaurants are partnering with influencers, who have thousands of followers, to share photos and posts about their dining experiences.
This is certainly the case in Columbus, Ohio—home of top national and regional restaurant brands like Cameron Mitchell Restaurants, Rusty Bucket Restaurant and Tavern, Piada Italian Street Food, Donato’s, Wendy’s, White Castle and Bob Evans. A favorite test market for new concepts, too, Columbus is nationally recognized as a foodie hotspot.
Many influencers who are members of the Cbus Food Bloggers group have plenty of experience working with restaurants. We asked a community leader and our frequent partner Erin Vasicek of The Spiffy Cookie to help us survey their members to share their insights on what they believe works—and what doesn’t.
Timing is the most important element when considering working with a restaurant, according to the group’s members, followed by compensation and then the social and blog posting requirements. Three quarters of the bloggers said they like being contacted at least one month in advance about a potential opportunity.
“It depends on the level of effort,” said one influencer. “If I have to visit the business, take photos, write post—at least 30-45 days.”
Most of the Columbus bloggers said they prefer to be contacted by email but also don’t mind being contacted via social media. In that initial correspondence, bloggers also like when restaurants take the time to share what their vision for the relationship, a bit about their history, and why they think it would be a compatible partnership.
All the Columbus bloggers indicated they would accept complimentary meals and/or beverages as compensation—depending on the scope of the project.
“If they just want a couple of Instagram posts or stories, I am fine with a comped meal,” said a member. But, if the restaurant desires a full blog post or extensive social media outreach, she said she’d like to be compensated either through gift cards or financially. This sentiment was consistent with the other bloggers who participated in the recent survey.
Restaurants may host influencers individually or with a plus-one, or they may plan an influencer-only event. Overall, the Columbus bloggers did not prefer one option or the other—but they do like feeling like they are part of something special and exclusive, whether that is getting a sneak peek at menu items or previewing upcoming specials.
“I find promoting specials, events, giveaways, etc. the most exciting and engaging,” commented a blogger. Showing unique menu items not found anywhere else gets a very positive response on social media, too.
Exclusive events, like a pre-release party or a new menu rollout event, are always welcomed because they make an influencer feel valued, expressed a blogger. “The more inside scoop an influencer can get, the better,” said another. “Demos are awesome, and hearing the chef’s story really drawls us in. I personally love the raw and candid moments that the chefs, owners, and bartenders can share to further the connection.”
So, what does the ideal partnership with a restaurant look like, from an influencer’s perspective? The bloggers surveyed said they partner with restaurants they enjoy and that align with their personal values. Many work with restaurants in partnership with the restaurant company’s public relations and digital consultants.
Influencers appreciate clear communication and getting the resources they need to tell a good story. They like feeling valued for their work, whether that is by being “in the know” about new menu items, being invited to exclusive events or just receiving gift cards periodically to use on their own time. In addition, a restaurant just sharing an influencer’s social media posts from a visit, with credit provided, is a nice little pat on the back.
The best partnerships are mutually beneficial, agreed the group. “They need someone to help spread the word on them, their food, their specials, their culinary team—whereas, we need/want interesting content and to position ourselves as people-in-the-know. It benefits the blogger to have a restaurant that really engages you, is willing to share interesting food/drink, will share the content we produce, to help us grow our audiences, too.”
The bottom line: Influencers are as excited to work with restaurants as the restaurants are to work with them.
Says one blogger, “When I find a new, local gem that people may not know about and can vouch for it, it helps others have that same great experience.”
Hana Bieliauskas, Senior Associate, Digital, Inspire PR Group
Hana leads Inspire PR Group’s digital practice in Columbus, Ohio from the firm’s Asheville, North Carolina location. Hana oversees digital strategy, including social media, online marketing and advertising and influencer engagement. She regularly works with many prominent national food bloggers on behalf of clients and has planned 30+ award-winning digital campaigns and blogger/influencer campaigns and events. Inspire is a nationally recognized communications partner to valued brands, including numerous local and national restaurant and foodservice companies.
Erin Vasicek, Blogger, The Spiffy Cookie & Spiffy Columbus
When Erin isn’t working her day job as a research scientist studying Salmonella, she cooks and develops recipes for TheSpiffyCookie.com, shares her Columbus food outings as @SpiffyColumbus on Instagram, and helps run the Cbus Food Bloggers group. She has worked with both national and local restaurants and marketing companies to showcase products in creative recipes or to provide sneak peeks into the Columbus food scene.