Several years ago, at a restaurant in the West Village neighborhood of Manhattan, I was harshly reprimanded for taking a picture of my plate. I wasn’t standing on my chair, and I wasn’t using a flash. Didn’t matter. The eatery had a strict “no photos” policy.
That establishment is gone now (awwwww), replaced by a Filipino taco joint that not only allows food photography, but also encourages it. Jordan Andino’s taqueria 2nd City, with its purposely photo-ready plates of food and menu items such as the “Poke Me” Bowl, takes a no-shame approach in appealing to diners who care more about Likes than they do about a Michelin star.
If your favorite fine dining spot is a little brighter, and the presentation of the food is a bit fussier, it’s because restaurateurs are embracing the dining public’s obsession with food photography, and are creating thoughtful compositional conditions for capturing the most delicious shot.
And the platform of choice for these epicurean photojournalists is Instagram.
Good food is inherently visual so it makes sense that the number one visual platform and social network would be the place to showcase a restaurant’s best dishes and a customer’s best experiences. At well over 500 million active users, and boasting features like Stories and live video, Instagram’s audience eclipses that of Twitter, Snapchat and Pinterest. Plus, unlike its social media peers, the content on Instagram is usually positive. (Who would want to taint their perfectly curated food feed with a picture of a sad enchilada?)
Legendary restaurateur Michael Chernow, owner of Seamore's in NYC, in on board.
Chernow said that in designing Seamore’s, Instagram was “absolutely, 100 percent taken into account.” That is evident when one sees the pops of color, the flood of light and the fine materials used (whitewashed wood, slate, zinc, and concrete). Even the dishware choices were considered through an iPhone lens, because Chernow wanted diners to think of a plate as part of a backdrop for the food.
Clearly, Instagram is evolving the game for restaurants. That includes fast-casual and quick-serve brands, such as Sonic. Last year the burger chain went all out and designed a food product specifically for Instagram, revamping their traditional milkshakes into gourmet desserts. Instagram-inspired Sonic Square Shakes were the hit of Coachella 2016.
Eateries of all kinds are leaning into the #instafood phenomenon by taking advantage of the inspiring and beautiful content that their customers are sharing, and by creating an ultimate environment for capturing Instagramable images. This may be particularly challenging for multi-location QSRs and fast-casual restaurants (Mr. Andino has only 2nd City to “Instagram up”), but it is critical that these brands provide a photogenic experience. Here are 19 ideas to jump-start thinking:
- Exclusive dine-in photo filters
- Photo-enhancing dinnerware
- Hashtag promotions
- Selfie stations
- Placemat photo frames
- Instagram-sourced menu
- Tabletop food reviewer guides
- Menu as photo prop
- Behind-the-scene glimpses for influencers
- Video backdrop
- Branded paper to hold food items (greaseless, please)
- Menu as photo frame
- Coasters as cocktail backdrops
- Napkin/placemat designed by Instagram foodies
- Instagram how-to booklet at each table
- Local influencer tastings
- Instagram menu specials
- Tabletop napkin origami guides
- Branded ice cubes