Restaurants today are adopting one of two policies regarding photography. One, ban mobile phones throughout the establishment to keep a traditional atmosphere. Or two, embrace the technological revolution and encourage the sharing of your dishes on Instagram.
While the second option seems like the obvious way to win you new customers, becoming an ‘Instagrammable’ restaurant is no easy feat.
In fact, according to study conducted by the restaurant chain Zizzi, 30% of 18-35 year-olds actively avoid restaurants with a poor Instagram presence. Review websites are no longer the primary method of research for younger people – they are much more likely to base their decision on what they see through social media.
And thanks to the inception of Instagram and #foodporn becoming the norm, the standards are undoubtedly rising. From interior design to photogenic dishes, let’s take a look at how to transform your restaurant into an #InstagramSensation.
1. Get inventive with your offerings
Before we get into the weeds with Instagram strategies, one thing should be clear. Nothing can replace the core elements of a successful restaurant: ambience, taste, quality, customer service, and managing costs. And no matter how good your marketing is, a restaurant without that core foundation will not see lasting success.
With that being said, these Instagram strategies can help elevate your brand, and ultimately get more people through the door. One core strategy that modern restaurants use is to create one trendy or vastly unique menu item every few months that will generate some buzz.
For example, Taiyaki NYC now serves fluffy souffle pancakes. Some months they serve unicorn floats, mochi donuts, and other limited-time offers that get people through the door. People will flock from all over to try an exciting new dish they have seen on social media. Now it’s your job to make it also taste great so you keep the momentum going and get them coming back during your next big promotion.
Take Dominique Ansel Bakery and their famous frozen smores or ‘cookie shots’. This warm, hollowed chocolate-chip cookie gets used as a ‘glass’ and filled with sweet milk. Once you finish drinking your milk, you can enjoy a nice, moist cookie at the end. This is the perfect menu item that balances trendy with quality!
2. Invest in Instagrammable Decor
Gone are the days of the traditional dimly-lit restaurant with candles and drab wooden tables. Restaurants today are modernizing with brilliant white furniture and contrasting crockery.
One of the most important features is your restaurant’s lighting.
Bright overhead lights or beautiful natural sunlight are both crucial to set the stage for the perfect photo. If your restaurant lacks light, any photos of your food will be grainy and probably won’t make the Instagram feed.
Be careful: overhead lights can distort the colors of your food, and give it a rather unflattering shine. Natural sunlight brings out the best in your dish, adding a feeling of fresh authenticity.
Bonus pro tip: if using a smartphone to capture your images, you can often use the ‘HDR’ setting when using the camera. This means that images taken in bright sunlight will emerge in greater detail.
Another factor to consider is hanging plants and utilize a little greenery to transform your space. This creates a natural look that adds an aesthetically pleasing (but clearly trendy) backdrop when done right.
3. Take the Risk by Branding Your Food
There are plenty of examples that have branded their signature dish, like 28 North Gastropub’s signature buns. This can make your food instantly recognizable when people are scrolling through social media looking for somewhere to eat.
4. Find a Workaround
Some restaurants design ‘Instagrammable’ features away from their food. Take Media Noche in San Francisco – designers fixated on the floor being a unique part of their restaurant experience.
Media Noche also boasts an exterior mural depicting two flamingos bowing their necks into a heart shape. Perfect Instagram fodder!
5. A Natural Look is a Good Look
Food is naturally beautiful, and hand-torn bread will always look more attractive and rustic than perfectly sliced bread. The same logic goes for fish. Scaled fish covered in dense rock salt makes for a great photo. Don’t try too hard – Instagram users will notice.
6. Contrast Your Food From Your Plates
If you’re serving something a little colorless, try pairing it with a patterned plate. Alternatively, if you’re using food with plenty of color, a gleaming white plate will provide a clean contrast.
It is always a good idea to leave some of the plate visible, so the eye has a natural place to rest when viewing photos of the food. A general rule is to leave around one-third of the plate visible so that the photo is not too overwhelming.
7. Add Volume to the Dish
Fresh herbs work wonders – they can bring a dish to life. The green leaves add visual texture to the top of a dish which could otherwise be colorless and flat.
8. Make it Fresh and Active
A photo taken in a kitchen with hot cheese melting will create much more emotion than a photo taken 30 minutes later, when all ingredients are set in place. Coat bread and meat with oil. A light coating of oil will give an attractive shine to these foods.
9. Commit to a Theme
Is your restaurant all about having fun and partying? Your IG food photos can reflect that. Think about a photo with half-eaten dishes, colorful crockery and pieces of confetti on the table. That kind of image would evoke feelings that your restaurant is the place to be for a fun time!
10. Have The Small, Unique Touch
Your restaurant is a unique place, so try to bring something to a photo that people won’t have seen before. There’s no need to follow the formula of cooking the food, putting it on a plate and snapping a plain photo. Think along the lines of writing a message with a condiment, or using the food to create shapes and words.
11. Play Around With Textures
Have you noticed that all photos somewhat crudely labeled as #foodporn on social media are usually bursting with color and texture? Let the viewers’ eyes bounce around the image from color to color and texture to texture. Maybe you’ve got some rough, artisan bread – you could pair it up with a pot of smooth aioli sauce for a juxtaposition of textures.
12. There’s No Need to Give it All Away
Some of the best food photos on social media are the ones where parts of plates and cutting boards are cropped out of the image. This gives the impression of a much larger scene than the one being shown. Viewers' minds will wander as they imagine everything else your restaurant might have to offer.
13. Use Math and the Rule of Thirds
Nothing difficult, but remember that odd numbers are more aesthetically pleasing than even ones. This applies to glasses, plates and other features of your image. Three glasses looks nicer than two, or four glasses.
If you’re ready to take the math up a notch, split your image into nine sections by using horizontal and vertical lines. These grid lines will intersect at four points, and your image’s focal point (likely a main dish) should sit at one of these points.
Adjust the exposure of the image by tapping and swiping the preview before you take the photo. This will help you to get lighting spot on.
14. Choose One of Many
Your Instagram feed is precious, right? It deserves better than settling for the first photo you take. Be safe and always take a number of images before looking at them all and choosing the one that is in sharp focus and well-aligned.
Is Your Restaurant Ready for Instagram?
The new breed of foodies today demand unique and nuanced experience. Being Instagram ready is a huge part of that, and an excellent social strategy can generate the foot traffic you need. And if your food is great, you’ll earn loyal customers for life.