By: Lacey Outten | Originally posted on

In an era when social media often dictates culinary trends and consumer dining choices, influencer marketing has emerged as a key strategy for building awareness and driving sales for restaurants and food and beverage brands. According to a recent report on, consumers are willing, if not eager, to spend more to visit “Instagrammable” establishments, underscoring the profound impact of visual storytelling on dining preferences. In an increasingly competitive industry, brands must work with influencers to not only stay relevant but to also stand out, showcasing their unique selling points: from visually stunning interior décor to crave-worthy menu specials. However, it’s important for brands to carefully consider and vet which influencers they work with, establishing clear objectives when creating an influencer partnership, in order to build a mutually beneficial partnership that factors in the right deliverables and metrics to drive success. Mastering the art of effective influencer partnerships has become a crucial component in restaurant marketing, and carefully focusing on a few important factors and best practices can elevate any influencer marketing approach.

Understanding your audience

The first step in building an effective influencer marketing campaign is to understand your target audience. Consider the demographics of your core customer base by taking a look at average age ranges, gender, race, location and even lifestyle choices. Are you looking to expand your reach within this demographic or do you want to attract a new segmented demographic to your brand? Strategically identifying the target audience will help to inform which influencers to consider as partners moving forward.

Setting clear objectives

Once your target audience is defined, the next step is to outline clear goals and objectives for the influencer marketing campaign. Examples include growing your brand’s social media reach and following, building awareness for a new product or offering or driving reservations. Influencer collaborations can also be impactful in promoting special events and other activations. Consider how you will measure the success of the campaign with key performance indicators. This may include not only quantitative metrics such as views, impressions and follower growth but also qualitative measures like sentiment analysis and audience feedback. A comprehensive approach to goal-setting and measurement is most important when evaluating the campaign and enhancing your broader marketing strategy.

Researching and vetting target prospects

Just because someone says they’re an “influencer” doesn’t mean they are, in fact, an influencer, nor does a cold proposal landing in your inbox mean they’re the right influencer for your brand. With your target audience and KPIs in mind, take a proactive approach, building out a list of relevant influencers to potentially collaborate with, who fit your target demographic. If you don’t have an agency partner to handle this for you, keep in mind that the research and vetting process should include taking a thoughtful review of an influencer’s social media pages, blogs and other platforms. Request media kits and an overview of their page’s demographics for consideration. Evaluate important factors such as the influencer’s authenticity and credibility when reviewing their content. If the influencer has worked with similar brands in the past, case studies or reports from previous partnerships will be beneficial in understanding what type of results you can expect. Take the same approach to proposals you receive from influencers directly, checking their tone of voice, past content and numbers before making a commitment.

Building mutually beneficial partnerships

Once the influencers who align best with your brand have been identified, the next step is outreach to secure interest. In the invitation to collaborate, it’s important to clearly outline your campaign’s intention, the requested deliverables and the influencer’s benefits. Be prepared to negotiate terms and fees, keeping in mind the ask, their popularity and other factors. If you’re particularly interested in capturing high-quality video content and selected the target influencer based on their expertise in this area, be sure to convey this in your guidelines. Creating a simple contract at the onset of the partnership is a helpful tool for making all expectations clear.

Enhancing with creative elements

To make the partnership more compelling to both the target influencer and your audience, get creative with your overall approach. Host the influencer for a private one-on-one cooking lesson with the chef to give followers an exclusive behind-the-scenes look of your establishment. Feature a special or limited-time menu item that is tied to the influencer and theme of the campaign. Consider incorporating interactive polls, contests and discount codes to increase participation by their fans and followers. By encouraging interaction, you not only deepen the engagement with the influencer but also enhance the overall experience for your audience. Remember, the more imaginative and innovative your strategy, the more likely your influencer program will capture attention and help you stand out in a crowded digital landscape.

Measuring success

As an agency that’s deeply focused on results—understanding what is working for our clients, and where there are areas of opportunity—we’re passionate about measurement. If you don’t have an agency partner on board to help you navigate this process, make sure you’re thinking about measurement on the front end, during the campaign and afterward. When evaluating an influencer marketing campaign, and looking at whether or not it was effective, several key points should be considered. Examine the engagement levels on the influencer’s content, such as likes, comments, shares and overall interaction. Measure the return on investment by tracking conversions, follows or other predefined KPIs. Using unique tracking links or promotional codes can help you better understand the direct results of the influencer campaign on the back end—so be sure to speak with your influencer partner(s) and find out if this is possible. It’s also critical to ensure the influencer completed all of the deliverables outlined in the original plan, and if they didn’t, push for additional content after the fact.

A recent study published in the International Journal of Hospitality Management claims the influencer marketing business has grown from $8 billion to $15 billion in just three years. This, combined with the fact that social media continues to dominate as a leading driver in decision-making for F&B brands, emphasizes the importance of building effective influencer campaigns into your overall marketing strategy. When properly executed, these collaborations can help you reach your goals and enhance overall brand visibility. They can also be an excellent complement to your other PR, event marketing and social media efforts.

Lacey Outten is an Associate VP at Hemsworth.