Empellon's razor clam ceviche with guava, horseradish, and pickled red onion.

Instagram’s 16 Billion Images Open Eyes to Restaurants’ Best Dishes

We have all been there. We see a “food porn” picture somewhere online and decide that we need to try that restaurant’s food or cocktails.

While some full-service restaurants are wary of social media because of negative reviews on Yelp and other mishaps, others are wisely embracing Instagram—a place where many of these food porn pictures are posted. The popular photo sharing site, acquired by Facebook last year, has quickly grown to 130 million users and 16 billion images.

“People are very excited to take pictures, and they take pictures of food constantly,” says Felipe Donnelly, co-owner and executive chef of Latin-American restaurant Comodo in New York City. To that end, Comodo has been “subtly promoting” Instagram to its guests since the day it opened last April.

Comodo includes the tag line, “Instagram #comodomenu” on the bottom of its one-page menu. On its Instagram page, the upscale eatery features its full menu in photos. “We have our presence on Facebook, Twitter, Socialcam, and others, but Instagram has been the best social media outlet,” Donnelly says.

Instagram creates a connection between restaurants and their guests, says David Rodolitz, co-owner of nouveau Mexican restaurants Empellón Cocina and Empellón Taqueria in New York City. “You get to interact with them whether they are inside the restaurant or outside. Plus, they are becoming brand ambassadors on your behalf,” he adds.

Instagram has become more popular over the past couple of years, consultants say, because of its simple focus on photos. “People absolutely love taking pictures of food. People are going onto Instagram for eye candy, to go through streams of really beautiful photos,” says David Gerzof Richard, social media marketing professor and president of Boston-based BIGfish.

“Attention spans for content continue to shorten. Instead of having to click on an article and read your post, I can look at your photo and have the same message conveyed. The saying, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ is true, and the new photo and video-sharing age has made that even more significant,” says Shad Bookout, chief social officer of Orlando-based 0pinoinsVary, a social media and social sales services firm.

While Comodo started with Instagram “as a neat way for our loyal customers to see our menu,” Donnelly says, the social media site has since produced a ton of publicity for the restaurant and has brought in new guests.

“We did a one-minute video about the Instagram menu and put it on YouTube and Viveo search, and then sent the video out to a couple of blogs. We went from 100 to 100,000 views in a few days plus different publications called and asked us what it was about,” Donnelly says.

Empellón Cocina has been using Instagram for about five months, and has effectively communicated its brand personality to both loyal and new guests. For example, the restaurant conducted a staff outing in mid-July and Rodolitz uploaded photos to Instagram throughout the day. “I was broadcasting a fun day at the beach, including our chef barbecuing for everyone. Food shots are great, but we like to break it up with lively, fun shots that give a different perspective on what we are all about,” Rodolitz says.


And that is exactly what social media consultants suggest: Encourage restaurant guests to post photos of their food and beverages on their own personal pages, while building the restaurant’s Instagram page with both food and “brand personality” pictures.

“It’s not just food. You can see the personality of the chefs [in photos], and get more of an insight into the restaurant,” Gerzof Richard says.

“Every restaurant should have all of their offerings photographed and on sites like Instagram,” Bookout adds.

Empellón Cocina smartly encourages its guests to post photos to Instagram with this statement on the top of its menus: “Empellón strongly discourages the use of cell phones, unless you’re posting food porn on Instagram. #Empellón.”

“We are lightly trying to discourage people from talking on their cell phones, while encouraging this whole social movement,” Rodolitz says. Empellón Cocina, which opened last spring, has been active on Instagram in order to “have our product stay relevant and at the front of people’s minds,” Rodolitz says. “We are a pretty busy restaurant, but it is important to stay that way. Instagram is a way to engage people on a more frequent basis, rather than having them dine here once and hoping they come back.”

Gerzof Richard says it is important for restaurants to have a presence on Instagram with their own company pages. “If you are opening up a restaurant tomorrow and have only one platform to jump on, I would use Instagram. It is a proactive approach to social media, instead of waiting for someone to come review your restaurant. Someone might discover your restaurant by seeing that photo,” he concludes.

The only drawback that some analysts see with restaurants’ Instagram pages is that guests can take awful photos of the restaurant’s food and tag them in their posts. However, Instagram “helps as much as possible” to make photos look good, and also allows users to “un-tag” photos they do not wish to be tagged in, Donnelly says.

By Christine Blank


News and information presented in this release has not been corroborated by WTWH Media LLC.