Food Influencers: The Truth About Them

Let me start by saying that this article isn’t an attack on all food influencers because not all encounters with food influencers are a waste of your money. There are some good ones out there, with a special emphasis on “some,” and it’s tough to know who the good ones are, even as a marketing professional. In this article, I will be going over what to look for to find a truly helpful social media collaborator and whether it’s worth getting them into your restaurant to boost your brand reputation.

Some of you reading this might ask, “Why are you talking about this, and what are you trying to get out of it?” I am talking about this because I see too many restaurant owners wasting their hard-earned money on something that didn’t help them, then giving up on social media marketing completely. I am trying to raise awareness, so you, as a restaurant owner or manager, don’t get screwed over.

How Food Influencers (May) Scam You

So you want to grow your restaurant’s revenue and gain new customers, as we all do, but don’t know how? You ask a friend or two, and they tell you, “You should get a food influencer to work with you!” or an Instagram influencer reaches out to sell you on all these great ideas they can provide. You decide to go with it because you are amazed that they have 10,000 followers. Then you quickly glance at the likes and comments and are even more impressed because you see 200 comments and thousands of likes.

Let’s face it, we can all imagine ourselves having a strong social media presence, and as humans, it’s in our nature to be like someone who has what we want. Then along comes someone like me to knock down that dream. Sorry! The truth is that most influencers have a fake following with, I guess you can say, “fake” comments. I will explain how they do this.


Many food influencers buy fake followers on Instagram or run ads on Facebook with a 1-cent-per-follow targeted in a developing country where the American dollar goes a lot further. What do you get? A lot of followers from developing countries who often comment in a different language or whose comments just don’t make sense. On Instagram, you can buy fake likes, and many of the engagement chat tribes for social media foodies will also like the post to make it seem like they have a lot more engagement.

How do I know this? Because I tried this when I first started out. In fact, I even started an engagement chat, thinking it would help restaurant owners, but I noticed I spent too much time building a false perception rather than focusing on actual growth analytics to deliver to the client.

Engagement & Engagement Chats 

How Engagement Chats Work

Let me tell you a little secret about Instagram: almost every food influencer is involved in engagement chats, where a variety of influencers and small business owners communicate with each other. These chats direct others as to which posts to like and comment on. This could be about their own posts or the posts of the businesses they are paid to represent. This makes it look like one influencer is getting 200+ comments on each post, but if you click on the profiles of the people commenting, they are either another influencer or a small business owner.

These engagement chats are well organized and are based off of follower amounts. There are chats that influencers can only engage in if they have more than 10k followers, more than 100k followers, and even chats only for those with over 500k followers. When one person in the group posts their content in the engagement chat, everyone in the engagement chat clicks the link to their content and engages with the post.

These influencers will then reach out to a restaurant owner and boast that they can increase the restaurant’s social media engagement, when really it involves recruiting these other influencers or small business owners who are doing the engaging, and most will never spend a penny in your establishment. Sometimes these influencers will even go so low as to create rules to inform everyone what to comment about, or if there is a giveaway, they tell everyone to follow the giveaway rules. Then the restaurant owner sees a lot of people commenting and participating in their giveaway without anyone actually spending money in the establishment itself.

The Initial Intent Of Engagement Chats

  • Instagram’s algorithm: The original concept behind these was to outbeat Instagram’s algorithm. When there is a lot of engagement on a post as soon as it is posted, Instagram’s bots think that your content is doing well and will show it to more people.
  • Explore Page: Another thing that happens is that when everyone from the chat likes and comments on your post, the followers of these accounts will see your content on their “explore” page. While this is a great concept, it’s best when it happens in an organic way. The reason this doesn’t work well is that if the food influencers are located in another state or country, their followers seeing your posts on their explore page may not be anywhere near your restaurant and can’t actually come and visit your establishment.
  • The Benefits: It’s possible your local community, aka your customers that follow your restaurant’s social media page, gets tricked into thinking your restaurant is very popular. It’s fake social proof. They may be more likely to come to your establishment because they think, “Wow, if this restaurant has so many customers praising their food/drinks, it must be good.” The problem is that more people are becoming aware of this happening and are seeing through the fake hype. Also, a lot of restaurants that do this don’t actually get a lot more business. If your restaurant’s food isn’t great and you increase sales with new customers, this might just run you out of business because your new customers will feel scammed and write terrible reviews. At Golden Web Media, we don’t market to just anyone that comes in our door, we ask questions to see if you need marketing or a plan to improve your restaurant first.

How Much Do Food Influencers Cost?

Hiring a food influencer can cost anywhere between relatively little, meaning giving them free meals so they can shoot your food, to upwards of $10,000 a post if they are a mega influencer or even a top food blogger. If it’s a mega food influencer that has close to a million followers or more, it’s pretty hard to fake it at that level without spending a lot of money. As for the lesser-known influencers that come in for free meals, they are probably still starting out, and as you are taking a loss, they are growing their social media following. Are there real followers in the mix? Sure there are. But is it worth it to lose money on food? That is up to you to decide.

If your food isn’t significantly different than other restaurants on the collaborator’s social media pages, then it probably won’t do much for your online presence. I haven’t seen much change in our clients’ followers with standard food when we worked with influencers who have a lot of followers. We’ve worked with several collaborative accounts boasting around 600k followers, and maybe we got a few new followers, but nothing more than ten to twenty. The client paid $500 to $1000 for each post, and in my opinion, it wasn’t worth it at all!

How To Choose A Good Collaborative Partner

First and foremost, any good influencer will cost a lot of money, whether it’s a food influencer or not. Hiring someone prominent in the social media realm could help your restaurant significantly because people want bragging rights, and if a very popular influencer visits your restaurant, many of their followers will want to come. It’s the reason Prince Street Pizza in NYC frames celebrity photos and hangs them up in their pizza shop.

  • Content: Look at their content and see if they produce great videos. Yes, look for videos and not photos because if you are going to pay someone to shoot your restaurant’s menu items and atmosphere, you might as well shoot videos. Video is king on all social media platforms. Also, see if they are doing something different and ask yourself these questions: Are their content likes growing significantly in a six-month time span? Do you see a significant increase in their engagement? Does it look like they are re-investing in their equipment, making their content videos look better over time? Is their craft always improving?
  • Engagement: Look at their engagement levels and see if most of their engagements are from genuine followers. This will take some time, but it will be well worth it. Also, look to see how they reply to comments. Good influencers will interact within their comment sections, unless they are mega influencers and have 1000+ comments. In that case, some of the videos will mention something like, “Hey I have been reading some of your messages and comments and I am here at the location you wanted me to try.”
  • Local: A key component in your food influencer search is that they must be local, because what is the point if you have a restaurant in New Jersey if the influencer’s followers are mostly in Florida?! Sure, you might get travelers once in a blue moon, but your marketing strategy is to dominate your online presence locally and then expand. 
  • Analytics: Analytics don’t lie… sometimes. Look to see how much reach they get and where most of their followers are from. Also, profile actions are a must to look at. For example, how many of their followers saved a post or clicked on their Facebook posts’ links?
  • Followers: It’s not just about the followers, because you can have a really good food influencer that only has 5000 followers but is growing their social media rapidly and strategically. It’s all about significant growth over time.

What Are Influencers’ Ultimate Goals?

There are two ultimate goals food influencers generally have. The first is to build their page to have the most followers so they can get paid big bucks from food brands and restaurants. The second ultimate goal is to eventually manage social media marketing for others. Most food influencers may know about creating amazing content, but there are many more things that come in to play when it comes to fully integrated social media marketing. It’s not only about having great communication skills with customers, but also replying in a professional, well-written, and grammatically correct format.

Every business owner wants to get their foot in the door. So, for many food influencers, this is a great opportunity to start working in that capacity, because they are most likely working very closely with the owner. If you like their work, then the food influencer might offer you some packages so they can produce content for you on a monthly basis. With that said, if you love their photography or videography skills and they have a great marketing strategy for you, then, by all means, hire them. Just make sure they are putting your business first and not their own social media pages.

Food Influencer Conclusion 

All in all, I believe it’s not worth it to work consistently with most food influencers and you should primarily focus on making your content better. By doing this, they come to your establishment of their own volition. When they do that, they pay for their meals and still post because they are trying to build their pages. When you focus on being innovative at creating the next big thing, everyone will come to you. That will last a lot longer than being on a food influencer’s stories for 24 hours or getting posted on their page where it gets dug down over time on their profile feed. However, there are good food influencers out there; they are simply hard to come by. There are also food influencers who know a lot about marketing, sometimes even more so than many marketing agencies, but they are even harder to come by.

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