Skip navigation
The Power List

Social media marketing expert Kate Finley shares how influencers can boost your restaurant

An influencer marketing expert shares her tips for tapping into the creator economy.


Social media influencers are no longer a cultural curiosity or kids-these-days novelty. These days, they’re an industry. Many of them, like Keith Lee, MrBeast, and Tabitha Brown, have become household names. Some of them have become multi-millionaires.

As more restaurants leverage marketing to reverse sluggish traffic, many of them are turning to influencers to create excitement and momentum with guests. But running a successful influencer campaign isn’t so simple as choosing a personality with the most followers (and in fact, those influencers can be too expensive even for big chains). 

NRN editor in chief Sam Oches spoke with Kate Finley, founder and CEO of Belle Communication, to understand how restaurants can effectively partner with influencers on TikTok, Instagram and other platforms.

This interview was edited for clarity. Stream the podcast above or below for the entire interview.

When we talk about influencer marketing, what are we talking about?

We have influencer marketing, which is much more transactional. It's kind of a one-time, one-off sort of engagement. You have a lot less control. It tends to be not very creative and not as effective. That's more like you find a bunch of influencers and you push out all of your content to them and they're all saying, “Well, we got sent this and we're going into this restaurant.” It just is not very relatable.

But influencer relations, on the other hand, is much more similar to media relations. It's very collaborative. It's seen as more relatable and authentic. You can be more creative. Often it's a partnership. And then, because it's much more collaborative, there's a lot more strategy and creativity that goes into it. It’s more of an investment of resources, but you have a much better ROI.

What is the primary function that an influencer is serving today in connecting consumers with the restaurants?

This is an opportunity to tell the consumer who you are and why you exist, especially when you look at Gen Z and millennials. They are very purpose driven and they're aspirationally looking for restaurant brands who align with their values. So we're seeing savvy restaurant brands use influencers in ways that not only talk about the food and the quality and the experience and the new product and the new menu item, but what do we stand for and how do we live that out?

The brands that are doing influencers well, they are factoring in what sort of creators they are partnering with to ensure that they actually represent who they are speaking to. If you can do that now, it really is a differentiator.

What are some best practices that restaurants should follow in building influencer campaigns?

I think we're seeing things like custom menu items created in partnership with influencers. And those sorts of collaborations are the most effective ones. So I think it’s going further than just offering free food in exchange for content; we've really evolved a lot since then. What if we bring influencers in to help us choose the final version in product development? Why don't we use them to be taste testers? Really think of influencers as people, and they represent people like them. They're inspiring people to make decisions, to change their behavior, to try new things because they're perceived as trusted aspirational peer sources.

You want to ensure that you have pay equity across your influencers. If you're paying some influencers who, when you look on the face of it, they have similar engagement levels, comparable engagement, comparable reach, and comparable audience and you have a significant pay gap between those influencers, that is a vulnerability for you as a brand.  Also, for those who are maybe experimenting with it, don't quit early, don't give up. Maybe something doesn't go exactly as planned. You thought your content would come out beautifully and it didn't. Learn from it, just like any marketing tactic. Don't throw in the towel too early.

Don't forget about measurement. You have a big idea, you want to execute it. You think this influencer is going to create mass awareness and you're going to have lines out the door. Not necessarily. Why are we doing this? Who is the audience? What do we hope it will achieve? How will we know we were successful? Finally, don't try to hold on too tightly to your campaigns. Do be willing to give the influencer room to be creative and play. If you have a really tight contract that's very restrictive — which you need to have a really solid contract for sure — don't let it be so restrictive that the influencer's hands are tied. You're going to end up with inauthentic, unrelatable content that you just paid primo dollars for, right?

What should the influencer selection process look like?

Micro-influencers are those who have followings from around 10,000 to 100,000 people. Anything below that would be considered a nano-influencer. And then over 100,000, you have more of a macro influencer. And then beyond that, like a million and up, you have more of a mega celebrity sort of influencer.

How you select the influencers for your campaign depends on your priorities, but we tend to look more at engagement rates, because you can have that macro celebrity partner and expect really great ROI and pay for really great ROI and not get it because the engagement is not there. We tend to see restaurant brands using micro-influencers. Often, we find micro-influencers have earned very high levels of audience trust, and that's due to their relatability. They're very protective of their audiences. And that's why you want more of that collaborative approach with that influencer where they have some creative freedom and there's willingness to experiment. Micro-influencers are much more cost-effective because their reaches are not as wide as those macro, celebrity types.

Now we're seeing people say it's the year of the micro influencer. Let's stop putting all of our dollars in one bucket on these macro relationships. We could expand and have so many more partners and so much more engagement and better ROI through these smaller ongoing relationships versus these one-off, cross-your-fingers, hopefully-it-works macro relationships.

Contact Sam Oches at [email protected].

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.