On social media today, ‘food porn’ is a perfectly acceptable phrase to tag your photos with. A term with entirely wholesome connotations, this tagline is used in over 124 million Instagram posts by foodies around the world showing off their most delectable dishes. Whether you are a savvy social media user or technophobe, there is no denying the omnipresence of platforms like Instagram in day-to-day life. A day out with friends or a hearty breakfast, today everything is a photo opportunity.
The ‘real life’ social spheres of the bar or restaurant are no different. From chefs to bloggers, mixologists to the everyman, millions of people use social media to share images when eating out.
As journalist Leah Hyslop points out, “Ten years ago, if you were eating at a restaurant and a diner was taking pictures of their food, it would probably have caused a frisson of curiosity to ripple round the room. Why had they brought a camera? Were they reviewing the place for a magazine? Wasn't their dinner getting cold?”
However you feel about modern-day dining etiquette, it is clear that this trend opens up huge possibilities to food and drinks businesses looking to reach new audiences with minimal effort. As Leah says, “These days, it seems, we’re all food photographers.” So how exactly can you immerse consumers in the social media revolution within the bar and restaurant environment?
How social media could benefit your brand
Food marketer Karen Fewell tells Big Hospitality why social media is so powerful:
“As humans we form gut reactions in three seconds or less. Our brains process up to 60,000 times faster than information received in text form. When you consider what is happening in the brain and how it responds to images of food, Instagram can be a very powerful tool for communicating with your restaurant customers. Research has shown that looking at pictures of highly palatable food can chronically active our desire to eat – even in the absence of true hunger!”
Achieving an ‘Instagrammable’ offering
For the online generation, dishes must be as ‘Instagrammable’ as they are tasty. Countless magazines and bloggers publish articles on topics such as ‘the 10 most Instagram-worthy desserts’ – but how exactly can this accolade be achieved? There are four fundamental factors in creating – the three ‘P’s.
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This one is a given, whether you want to appeal to Instagrammers or not. Presentation is key in creating an appealing dining experience, but this is even more important when you know that guests will be photographing your offerings and uploading them to their accounts with tags and all. So, play around with your presentation to create something that will look good when captured through a smartphone lens.
Of course, there is no hard-and-fast rule here – it really depends on your branding, style and the kinds of dishes you offer. High-end restaurants known for their finesse may want to serve starters Masterchef-style, with components of various colours and textures scattered artfully across a plate. Gastropubs might find that minimalism is the way forward, making one element (say, fillet of fish) the centrepiece with minimal sides placed cleanly alongside it (or in separate dishes). Heartier dishes, on the other hand, should harness unadulterated temptation – think oozing chocolate sauce, roast dinners with layers of meat, pies with gravy bubbling out the sides of the pastry. Whatever your style, craft it into an aesthetic, and, moreover, simply spend the time thinking about how your food looks.
In the video above, you can see pastry chef Simon Veauvy creating his dessert dish, ‘Piñata’. This masterpiece comprises of chocolate, honey, caramel, milk and “a lot of gourmandise”, and it encapsulates the importance of one key value in creating Instagram-worthy dishes: playfulness. Using balloons covered in melted chocolate, he creates the egg centrepieces of the piñatas, making for a visually delighting dish.
This principle can be achieved in countless ways, from serving dishes to look like something (the ‘plant pot’ trifle is a classic example) to exploiting novelty value with ‘loaded’ items like ice creams or burgers with ‘the full works’, or dishes in unexpected colours like a purple beet-infused consommé. The key is to take a component of the dish and make it the centrepiece. For example, a honey-based dessert might use honeycomb shapes as a motif. The end result is that you capture the imagination of guests, bringing a smile to their face and bringing their phone out of the pocket to snap your exciting dish in all its glory.
Serving up the unexpected does not have to mean interfering with an established recipe, however. If you’re happy with your current recipe formulations but find that guests are not inspired to post images of your dishes or drinks on social media, perhaps it’s time to consider how you plate (or glass) up. Capturing the intrigue of customers may be as simple as changing up your serving vessels.
For example, if you regularly sell fish and chips, why not serve the chips in a mini fryer? If you’re your dish is, like the dessert pictured above, inspired by horticulture or local produce, why not use a trowel as a plate? Use your creative flair to draw thought-provoking connections in plating up, because these elements are more than just a vessel to hold a dish, they are a true part of it. If you hope to inspire social posting of your offerings, there are few better ways to do so than by completely amazing guests from the moment the waiter approaches their table. Following a popular Instagram page like The Art of Plating will provide endless inspiration in this department.
Encouraging social sharing
So you’ve made a menu that is worth sharing, but how can you encourage guests to actually take those photos and upload them to social media?
Creating a social ‘presence’
One of the easiest ways to get people talking about your bar or restaurant on social media is by creating a presence on the platforms yourself. Create an Instagram page, take photos of your products and get posting. To attract a maximum amount of followers, use hashtags, and tag your suppliers, too, to widen your audience. Do your research into the kinds of foods that people are posting onto social media, and make a note to capture your own versions of these.
As a starting point, according to Big Hospitality, the top food-related Instagram hashtags are:
One of the easiest ways to encourage customers to share images of your products on social media is often overlooked. When sharing images online, people are looking to post something that is a little bit different – something that conveys their personality. This is achieved through customisation.
Visitors aren’t going to share an image of an average coffee or the standard martini, but they will post a deconstructed coffee flight or a martini customised with their various mixture of organic botanicals. Whether it’s with ‘build your own’-style drinks or personalised drinks for customers celebrating a special occasion, adding a one-off touch will make customers want to capture memories, and share them.
Of course, one very straightforward way to encourage social engagement with your customers is by offering incentives. Why not display a sign in your venue asking guests to photograph their evening and use a particular hashtag with the chance to win a free drink on their next visit for the best shot? Alternatively, advertiser Maria Topken suggests setting up your own mobile app as a way to interact more personally with guests. Writing for Restaurant Hospitality, she says:
“For example, if your business generally is slow from 2–4 p.m., you can send messages inviting customers to stop by during these times for half-price =appetizers or drinks. Or, let's say you have a typically busy period — dinnertime, for instance — that on a particular day is unexpectedly slow because of inclement weather. You can entice folks to brave the elements by pushing out a real-time promotion offering special discounts for that night only.”
The possibilities of social media are endless, and as the world becomes more and more digital, now is the time to make sure your brand is keeping up with the social media revolution.