Social media should be an important part of your restaurant marketing strategy. For many businesses, social media is an essential way to connect with customers and build a loyal brand following. Here, Mayly Tao, a.k.a. "LA's Donut Princess" and the owner of DK's Donuts & Bakery in Santa Monica, CA, shares her tips for social media marketing for restaurants — and how the business got over 85,000 engaged followers on Instagram.
My parents never intended for me to go into the family donut business. In fact, they made sure to send me to the best schools so that I could pursue another career, but I ended up getting back into the business anyway. I was drawn back in by a love of storytelling through food — not only by sharing my family's story but also delivering and satisfying our community with the best donuts in the world.
One of our 120+ donut varieties: the very popular Texas Size Donut. It's BIG! See more on the DK's Donuts & Bakery Instagram.
How I got into the donut business
My Cambodian immigrant community has a unique history with the donut industry. My parents came to the United States as refugees escaping the Cambodian genocide under the brutal reign of the Khmer Rouge. Once they got here, they were introduced to the donut business by my uncle, Ted Ngoy, a.k.a. the "Donut King," who built a donut empire by connecting other Cambodian refugees with jobs in donut shops up and down the West Coast. (By the way, a documentary about him called The Donut King is out now — you should watch it!)
In 1981, my parents bought the DK's business from its original owner, David and Kathy, where they served donuts to a local and loyal clientele for years. DK's was a franchise back in the 70s and 80s, and decided to sell the shops one by one at the same time that Khmer refugees were coming over. My parents purchased the shop with bare bones; it was on the verge of bankruptcy. They served the usual tasty options: classic glazed, sprinkled cake, cinnamon twists and more. It wasn't until I came back from college with a fresh perspective that I saw the potential for our business to grow. When you're born into a family business, you think of it just as a shop that is already at its fullest potential. I wanted everyone to know about DK's Donuts & Bakery — and I saw social media as a way to get us there.
If you’re not on social media these days, you’re a lot less visible to potential customers.
Get started with your social media strategy by trying new things
I started posting about our shop on Instagram in 2012, when Instagram was still relatively new. No one knew what they were doing, so I had complete freedom to try new things and see what worked. The great thing about social media is that you can quickly see what your followers are responding to. Lots of likes and comments mean that your content is hitting the mark. If something doesn't get a lot of attention, you can quickly move on to the next post. Even though I've been on Instagram for nearly a decade now, I still try out new types of content and posts to see what my followers like. It's important to keep things fresh.
Something new we tried recently: a virtual photo booth! This post encourages people to take and share some fun photos, showing support for The Donut King documentary.
Grow your social media following by sharing your unique story
One other thing I've learned about social media marketing for restaurants, especially family shops like ours, is that it's important to be the brand. When you show who you are behind the business, that's something customers can connect with.
In our culture, like many Asian cultures, food is a way to communicate love. Whenever I saw my grandmother when I was growing up, the first thing she would ask me was, "Have you eaten?" That's our way of showing care: we make sure our loved ones are fed, then we can take on anything else. I want our customers to feel that way at every point of the DK's journey — from the moment they walk in our shop to opening one of our colorful boxes.
The DK brand is playful and whimsical, but always rooted in the meaning of family. I share stories about my life inside and outside the shop so that our customers get the complete, authentic experience of our business — in addition to mouthwatering donut content.
When building out your restaurant's social media marketing strategy, don't just focus on the food — tell the story of your business. Share posts about who you are and why you started your restaurant. What motivated you to build that business? What values do you share with your customers? Are there any dishes that are particularly meaningful to you that might have a story behind them? Your customers are hungry to know more about you—so let them.
Sharing a little bit about myself with DK's Donuts & Bakery fans introduces them to the people behind the brand.
Share eye-catching photos and visuals that feel like your brand
Social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook are designed to highlight great visuals, so make sure that any photos you share represent your business in its best light. I know a photo is the right one to share when it just looks like DK's: bright, whimsical, and often shows our food being shared with friends and family. Ask yourself: Does this fit my brand? Does it communicate a feeling or an experience? Is this telling my story in a way that customers will enjoy seeing?
You don't necessarily need to hire a professional, either. I'm an iPhone photographer myself, and post lots of photos and videos that I've shot on my phone. I've also been lucky enough to partner with some great local photographers like Josh Quintero, Pop LA, and others who are happy to get exposure and creative freedom in exchange for letting a small business like ours share their photos. It's a win-win for everyone, and we try to pay it back by sponsoring the events and groups that they're a part of. That's one way we give back to the community.
Sharing a behind-the-scenes video of some freshly-glazed donuts gives people a peek into the process—and an education on why they should support small shops! Watch the full video (that I took on my phone) here.
Let your followers and fans help tell your story
On that note, don't forget about user-generated content, or UGC. UGC is an amazing way to scale your social media marketing efforts. I might be one person with an iPhone, but there are thousands of customers who can help me create and share DK's content—and their posts are amazing from a different perspective.
When I get tagged in a cool photo from someone, I'll reach out and ask if we can share it on the DK's social channels. Most often people say yes — they just want to be recognized and be a part of the brand's story. The people who create content for us are already passionate content creators or satisfied customers who are amazing at what they do. All you have to do is ask before resharing their content, and make sure to properly tag them so they can get the bragging rights of being featured on your brand's social feeds.
I might be one person with an iPhone, but there are thousands of customers who can help me create and share DK's content.
The number one social media strategy is to post consistently
Many people look at a social media feed and think, oh that's easy, but it's actually a full-time job. Creating enough content to post consistently takes a lot of effort, and my number one piece of advice to business owners is find someone who can be dedicated to it, whether that's you or an employee.
When you run out of ideas for what to post, look to some of your biggest holidays and create theme content around those. For example, on National Donut Day, we planned a big party at our location.
I'll often post content around holidays and events, like this post for Mother's Day, to remind people that DK's is a great way to celebrate. Who doesn't love a donut bouquet?
Why social media marketing matters for restaurants
Today, social media is how people communicate and get their information about what's going on in the world. It's where people spend most of their time. When I was growing up, we watched TV — now, it's social media.
If you're not on social media these days, you're a lot less visible to potential customers. I think the pandemic really highlighted how important it is for restaurants to adapt to the changing times. With more people at home, businesses need to be visible online. Social media marketing is one way to help with that.
As you develop your own social media strategy for your restaurant, don't forget to have fun. It can be a lot of work, but at the end of the day social media should be about sharing your story, which is hopefully one filled with passion, joy, and some really good food. Don't forget to tag us @DKsDonuts!
Want to learn more? Follow DK's Donuts & Bakery on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok, and order donuts on DoorDash here. Listen to Mayly dish out business advice on her podcast Short N' Sweet. Mayly also offers social media consulting services — contact her through her LinkedIn.
Interested in more marketing and social media resources? Download The Ultimate Guide to Restaurant Social Media Marketing.