Here’s how local restaurants are responding to social pressures in the days of TikTok and Instagram

There’s another crucial ingredient restaurants need in 2024: an active, engaging social media presence.

On a planet where people aimlessly scroll their phones, busy restaurant owners are tasked with creating menu items that taste good and stand out on feeds.

Longtime chef, restaurateur and Making Raving Fans Hospitality Group partner Peter Sclafani says using social media in the restaurant industry is a new way of marketing. He and his wife, Michelle, who runs the brand’s social accounts, even set out to make SoLou, MRF’s Perkins Road restaurant, more Instagrammable.

And, it’s working. The restaurant now has over 10,000 Instagram followers, the most out of all MRF concepts. Diners can’t resist snapping pics of its Tabletop S’mores, garnished cocktails, cotton candy tufts and patio mural.

SoLou. File photo by Collin Richie

Local foodie and social media influencer Maameefua Koomson has seen this, too. Through her company Quirk-E Creative, she helps spots like Boru Ramen, Sweet Society, Zee Zee’s and others keep their accounts up to date with inventive posts. A Zee Zee’s Espresso Martini Flight reel with over 180,000 views? Koomson was the mastermind behind the viral vid.

Koomson has picked up on trends from sharing her favorite eats with her about 45,000 Instagram and TikTok followers.

“During the pandemic, it was more about convenience and ‘Where can I go eat?’” Koomson says. “But, now it’s like, ‘Where can I go and get an experience?’”

Jordan Basham, who runs the popular @wheretogeaux225 account, says sometimes experience can impact the overall meal.

“If I go in and the food is like a seven out of 10 and the manager is really trying their best and is receptive to feedback, that truly makes it for me,” she says.

Beausoleil Coastal Cuisine. Photo courtesy Jordan Basham

Still, there’s a science to social media. Basham and Koomson agree that restaurant accounts should combine equal parts authenticity and spectacle. Think: A post about a staff member followed by a reel of flaming desserts.

SoLou heard a lot of feedback on a post showing Peter and Michelle painting benches at the restaurant. Koomson says she’s always being asked to share more about the business or the people behind the scenes, too.

But that process takes effort. The Sclafanis implore the help of the restaurants’ managers to collect photos and videos for future use. Michelle has had to limit posting before due to a lack of content and her own full schedule. And because there’s no secret recipe for the ever-updating algorithms, she experiments to see what sticks.

Sweet Society. File photo by Collin Richie.

Others lean on the likes of Baton Rouge’s growing group of more than 30 food influencers for help—they recognize that collaborating can bring in new customers hoping to try what their eyes have already feasted on online.

“Maame and I get messages (from restaurants) every single week, and it’s like ‘You made one video about us, and we had 50 people in the door,’” Basham shares. “It’s made a huge impact on the Baton Rouge food industry, I think.”

Social media isn’t going anywhere, so restaurants have to get on board with it, Michelle says.

“The consumers are looking for an online presence,” Koomson adds. “It doesn’t have to be the best, but I do think that’s essential now. … If not, it’s kind of like not having a sign on your door.”

This article was originally published in the July 2024 issue of 225 Magazine.