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Restaurants, Instagram, and the Evolving Dining Experience

Getting the perfect Instagram shot can take a lot of time, effort, and strategy. Standing on chairs, rearranging food on a table, doing gymnastics with your body to take that pic from just the right angle, etc. are all becoming common practices frequently witnessed in public places. Personally, I’ll admit that I’ve prevented many friends from taking their first bite of a meal so I could capture a picture.

That said, there is no denying the impact that high-quality mobile cameras, and specifically the Instagram app, have had on the restaurant and food industries. Whether that impact is positive or negative may be different depending on who you ask, but it is clear that Instagram is changing the way restaurants operate, market themselves, and even how they serve their food.

avocado toast brunch. ?

A photo posted by Rachel Brown (@rachelanjali) on

Cons Before Pros

To start, it is important to recognize that for good reason, the food industry has been slow to adapt to this changing consumer behavior. A couple of years ago there was a push to ban cellphones from certain restaurants. This meant: no cameras, no texting, no phone calls, because the owner or chef wanted their guests to focus on their meal and experience the food and atmosphere to the fullest extent. Perhaps more importantly, in an industry driven by ticket times and the ability to turn over tables, customers and their cell phones can slow down the process and impact the wait time for other guests.

However, as iPhones and Instagram have proliferated, consumers have started to ignore these rules and bring cellphones into the restaurants anyway. Modern restaurants are beginning to understand and accept this shift in behavior, recognizing the opportunity to use it to their advantage.

Here are a few ways Instagram has positively impacted the restaurant industry.

Instagram, or it didn’t happen

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. The most obvious way restaurants are leaning into the #instafood phenomenon is by taking advantage of the inspiring, quality, and most importantly, free content that their customers are creating.

Restaurants can regram drool-worthy photos, encourage Instagram contests to win a free drink or appetizer, and even impact customer-generated reviews and photos on websites like grubhub, yelp, seamless, and more. This is good news for restaurants confident in the quality and presentation of their food, service, and atmosphere. It’s obviously not so good for restaurants that are mediocre, but this is another reason diners enjoy the authentic content as a way to distinguish between experiences. Additionally, it’s not just big-name restaurants that do well with user-generated content: Hole-in-the-wall restaurants and food trucks are gaining recognition for quality and presentation while better known restaurants are receiving validation from their fans for their expert plating or atmosphere. Without a doubt Instagram and other forms of UGC have become a win-win for those that are dedicated to delivering unique and visually captivating food experiences. Moreover, as Instagram takes a firmer hold of the restaurant industry, individual restaurants can start to use their patrons’ content to promote on their own website and beyond to showcase seasonal dishes, customer favorites, and more.

Customers Inform the Dining Experience

Another way that Instagram has impacted the food industry is by opening a new avenue of conversation and feedback from the customer. Restaurants now can have a greater understanding of what their guests want, which dish is most popular, and maybe even which dishes need to up their game to be more visually appealing. Obviously, user-generated content spans not just Instagram, but other types of content like blogs, reviews, and ratings across the web and mobile.

As Aliza Sokolow from Poppseed Agency, a social media consulting company for various restaurants, said, “I can’t tell you how much money you’re going to make by investing in social media…” and she’s right. If a person takes a photo of a delicious plate of eggs benedict, best be sure that their friends who see that mouth-watering pic will be craving that same dish for their next brunch, and may even seek it out. This type of influence and consumer behavior is a windfall for restaurants when it comes to Instagram, because it is driving attendance and additional knowledge about a restaurant and its dishes.

#gratitude #cafe ☕️

A photo posted by Rachel Brown (@rachelanjali) on

According to a Tasting Table article, Michael Chernow, owner of Seamore’s in NYC, said that in designing this restaurant Instagram was “absolutely, 100 percent taken into account.” The proof is in the pudding when one sees the pops of color, flood of light, and materials used (i.e. whitewashed wood, slate, zinc, and concrete) when dining at the restaurant. Even the dishware choices were considered through an iPhone lens, in that Chernow wanted diners to think of a dish as part of a backdrop for the food: “It’s like having a blank canvas and the food is the actual show piece…Every dish, if you’re doing the right thing, gets thrown up on Instagram.” Truer words never spoken, sir.

Next Level S**t

From changing the restaurant conversation to free foodie advertising, Instagram is evolving the game for customers and restaurants alike, and now even the fast-food industry is starting to catch on. One of the better and more creative uses of Instagram as of late comes from an unlikely brand: Sonic. And just in time for a Coachella activation too! AdWeek covered Sonic as it went all out and specifically designed a food product for Instagram – revamping their traditional milkshakes into gourmet-inspired desserts showcased in adorable square containers. A perfect alliteration in and of itself, Sonic Square Shakes are the first shakes designed specifically with Instagram in mind. The campaign, led by renowned @chefjacqueslamerde, will hopefully help build Sonic’s Instagram followers and engagement, while contributing something unique to the Insta-community.

#squareshake #imgonnawin #squareshakes

A photo posted by Stephanie Lorraine (@iamstephanielorraine) on

More brands should see this as a great example of how restaurants, even fast-food ones, can begin to think outside (or rather, inside) the box and reach their customers in unlikely places. Specifically, with the announced Instagram algorithmic change, it is becoming imperative that brands become more dedicated to generating quality creative content across popular social media channels to reach their targeted audiences. As Sonic said in its ad, “Move over latte art,” #squareshakes are here – hopefully to be followed by more unique branded Instagram content in the future.

Sonic Square Shakes
Source: AdWeek/Sonic

Image Source: Me 🙂

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