It pays off to ensure your establishment is picture-perfect, according to Michele DiMeo, AKA The Restaurant Diva.

It was a celebrity boxer who coined the term “The Restaurant Diva” to describe Michele DiMeo, who co-founded MONTE Restaurant Development Group and Squisito Franchise enterprises. “He came into the restaurant (Tuscan Prime in Fort Lauderdale, Florida) and said ‘wow, this place is amazing, it’s Instagram amazing,’” she recalls on a recent episode of FSR’s Restaurant Innovator podcast

“I love fashion and I love the whole image and the wow experience with myself as well as the restaurants,” DiMeo continues. “He’s like, ‘man, you are the diva, the restaurant diva,’ and it kind of stuck. I said, ‘well, I kind of love that, and everyone calls me a diva anyway.’”

That unnamed celeb was also spot-on that Tuscan Prime Italian Chophouse and Dolce Bar, part of the Maryland-based MONTE Restaurant Group, was “Instagram amazing.” Soon enough, DiMeo had guests traveling from all over the country to dine there, from Chicago to Washington, DC and New York. Since starting the business with her husband and business partner, Gennaro DiMeo, the couple has bought and sold more than 20 restaurants. They are also franchising Squisito Pizza & Pasta, which combines the flavors of Italy with authentic New York-style pizza and has become a staple in the Maryland pizza scene.

“When we built Tuscan Prime, my vision for that restaurant was to make everything social media-worthy, because today it’s all about the pictures … Guests are taking more pictures of the food and the environment than actually eating it,” she says. “You walk in, and from the colors to the 3D images on the wall with these big over-the-top metal red flowers. People wait in line to take pictures. It’s just crazy.”

“I mean, obviously we have great food, and it’s always going to be [about] the food because you’re in the restaurant. But I really think it’s the ‘wow’ experience that’s more important today than even the food,” DiMeo says, adding a friend of hers goes so far as to say “I don’t care about the dinner, I eat atmosphere. The food is all extra.”

That guest “wow” experience” is everything from a warm greeting from the connoisseurs (not hostesses) when they walk in the door and a guided tour of the restaurant to the plating and delivery of the food and every step of the service in between, and the extravagant desserts at the end. To ensure everything is picture perfect before guests arrive, DiMeo walks the restaurant and looks at each section from a guests’ perspective before she starts working the floor. And on that note, DiMeo regularly takes photos with guests who come in to see “The Restaurant Diva.” 

“Restaurant Diva, that’s my next career. It’s really taking that restaurateur mentality and taking it to that whole reality, social media, putting it on the foreface, which is what I love to do, be out front and center,” DiMeo says. “And yes, we’re working on a reality show, I can’t really tell you too much [of the] secret details yet, but they’ll be out soon. We’re doing a lot of cool stuff,” she teases.

To hear more, check out “The Restaurant Innovator” on all your favorite podcast platforms.

Feature, Franchising, NextGen Casual, Restaurant Design, Squisito