How to up your restaurant's Instagram game
Instagram hit 800 million users in September – and 500 million use it every day.
It's common knowledge that one of the most Instagrammed things (other than selfies) is food. After all, food can excite, entice, create envy and most important: it gets likes.
So it’s no surprise that the social platform is a huge influence on F&B businesses.
Users now scope out what an eatery has to offer by not just viewing its Instagram profile, but also its geotag to see what customers have posted (perceived as more accurate).
It’s also shaping what we eat: we have Instagram to thank (or blame) for trends like rainbow-coloured foods and unicorn-themed desserts.
Innovative and interactive plating is at its peak – think domed desserts that come in a hard chocolate shell that dissolves as warm syrup is poured over it to reveal an inner dessert.
So how does that affect your food business?
It's an equaliser – smaller businesses without huge marketing budgets can now compete with the bigger brands.
Word of mouth is the most effective form of marketing, and it’ll help you save lots of ad dollars. People who think your food is noteworthy will post about it and their friends will see it; those who see such posts and want to try your food will share it with their friends and so on. While your restaurant may not be high-profile enough to be covered on conventional media, it can get traction on social media and even go viral.
Customers see social media as an extension of a brick-and-mortar business. It’s a way for them to get to know a restaurant before becoming a customer and also a way to show their support after dining there.
An active Instagram profile gives the impression that your business is current and responsive to customers. It is direct communication channel and a gives your followers a sense of familiarity. Instagram Stories gives your followers a “behind-the-scenes” feel that makes them feel more connected to your business.
Instagram increasingly influences not just menus, but also restaurant design.
Dirty Bones, a London restaurant, designed its fourth outlet with Instagram in mind – both in terms of its menu and decor. There are neon signs with Instagrammable quotes like “Good vibes only”, “Keeping it real” and “It was all a dream”. Diners can even ask the staff for an “Instagram Pack”, which contains a portable LED camera light, a multi-device charger, clip-on wide angle camera lens and a tripod selfie stick.
After all, when your food and space encourages people to take photos and share them, you won’t have to worry about having enough content for social media – just use their photos for your Instagram feed with reposting apps.
What the pros are doing
A statement entrance that encourages customers to snap photos is great for the ‘gram – and also for catching the attention of passers-by. If people are queueing outside your restaurant, it also gives them something to take photos of.
Media Noche in San Francisco has giant flamingoes.
Clear Cafe in Bali has a beautiful rotating door.
Wheeler’s Yard, till today, is still being photographed and shared.
Natural light is the new prime real estate. It creates the best photos and restaurant owners are increasingly ditching dimly lit dining rooms in favour of large windows that let the light in. Some restaurants even have overhead lighting specially selected to flatter the food placed on the tables.
Bellota in San Francisco has an individual lamp that customers can adjust so they can get the perfect lighting for their shot.
On the table
Choose complementary colours and interesting textures for table surfaces – they make pretty backgrounds for overhead shots, otherwise known as flatlays (take a leaf from cookbook photography).
Bob Bob Ricard in London has "PRESS FOR CHAMPAGNE" buttons at each table and serves “more than 3,000 bottles in a slow month” as a result, according to its owner.
Cafe Henrie has signature rose coloured tables that are instantly recognisable in photos.
Paper menus that also serve as placemats are a smart way of getting your restaurant’s branding into more photos.
Other decorative touches
Media Noche has beautiful tiles people can’t stop Instagramming.
Clear Cafe features different inspirational quotes every day that are inevitably photographed.
Crackerjack’s statement-making honeycomb shelving the wall behind the bar.
Salted and Hung has murals inspired by George Orwell's Animal Farm.
You may want to invest in bespoke plateware, utensils, glassware, and etc. that are instantly recognisable on Instagram. When deciding, consider your flatware and materials through an iPhone lens.
Mayfair restaurant Sexy Fish has anticipated that some customers may like their bespoke chopstick rests a little too much – “Stolen from Sexy Fish” is inscribed on the bottom of each one. Of course, this just makes the object more Instagrammable.
Cheeky sugar packets like these from Jack’s Wife Freda, napkins and other disposables also encourage patrons to include them in photos.
Takeout containers and paper bags can be Instagrammable too. You can even have your menu printed on them like by CHLOE. Interestingly enough, the same designer is behind Jack's Wife Freda and byCHLOE – is it any wonder both are so popular on the 'gram?
Paris Baguette's coffee cups are adorable – and very recognisable.
Capturing an experience
Try creating different “Instagram moments” throughout the course of the meal at your restaurant. If possible, leave something for your guests to discover – like printing at the bottom of a cup or plate that can only be read when the contents are emptied.
Is Insta-Fame worth it?
Turnover might be slower
In a popular 2014 NY Daily News article, a New York City restaurant found that over the past decade, the number of customers served daily remained the same, but service was significantly delayed thanks to smartphones and people caught up in taking photos of their meals.
Bear in mind that after a certain point, the designs that were initially so Instagrammable may start to look stale – probably because they have been shared too much. Refreshing your aesthetics may be in order then.
Some F&B owners have mentioned that Instagram helps them maintain the standards at their restaurant. Most notably, Gaggan Anand of the Michelin-starred Gaggan in Bangkok says he monitors Instagram for customer satisfaction and correct plating.
Know your customers better
Instagram also helps you know which dishes are hits with your customers and which don't get much attention. This is especially useful if you don't have a customer relationship management system (CRM) that can track customer preferences and average spending, so that you have the ability to optimise your menu.
Instagram's latest feature, Polls, lets people vote on your Instagram Stories. It will be a useful tool in getting customer feedback and you can even get them to vote on new menu items you're unsure about!
Remember, at the end of the day, having something Instagram-worthy only brings in first-time customers – your food has to be good for them to want to come back.
Cheryl Tay is the editor and marketer at iCHEF Singapore. She also manages iCHEF Club, a growing community of F&B owners in Singapore – organising events, the blog, an online newsletter and the F&B Entrepreneur Bootcamp, the only regular workshop on opening a new restaurant in the country. In her spare time, she attempts to read every book that’s ever won a literary prize and watches cat videos. Like any proper Singaporean, her love for food runs deep – especially spicy food. Chili is life.