Customers want to get up close and personal with their food.

It’s hard to remember the world before social media, and the Instagram platform in particular has taken foodies by storm. One day, someone somewhere posted a beautifully-crafted image with the hashtag #foodporn, and a new craze was born.

“We used to eat with our eyes,” says Barilla foodservice chef Yury Krasilovsky, whose profile boasts more than 1,000 highly-engaged followers. “Now, the phone eats first. Instagram’s influence has forced operators of all stripes to pay more attention to presentation.”

According to a FoodBytes report from Datassential, an Instagrammable aesthetic has become the number one concern for restaurant chefs and operators. #Food is among the top 25 most popular hashtags on the platform, with more than 250 million posts. #Chef, #cheflife, and other culinary tags also rank in the top 50th percentile of post popularity.

“Beyond seeing guests in the dining room Instagramming their meals, we are also seeing chefs using Instagram as a platform to seek inspiration and express their own creativity,” Krasilovksy says. “Instagram is helping to form a culinary community. Plating ideas, flavor pairings, and menuing trends are all there for the taking.”

The media site now has more than one billion active monthly users, and 30 percent of those report that they have purchased a product they discovered through the platform. It’s therefore no surprise that restaurants and chefs are engaging massive audiences and attracting new customers by posting regularly to Instagram.

“The most popular posts tend to be colorful, and either highly composed and stylized or else all-in comfort food,” Krasilovsky says. “It’s not an accident that mac and cheese photos are some of the most popular around. At the end of the day, it’s about appetite appeal—food photos should make the viewer want to dive in for a forkful.”

There are many styling techniques that chefs use to ensure their photos are Instagram-competitive. With pasta, for example, Krasilovsky recommends photographing longer varieties rather than using short or round shapes.

“When plating, you can twirl long cuts of pasta like spaghetti or bucatini in a ladle to create a nest shape,” he says. “Adding a bit of cracked pepper, olive oil, or microgreens can add depth and make a photo remarkably more engaging.”

Because food generates universal appeal—drawing on both its necessity and cachet—food photography has always been a successful medium. Instagram provides the opportunity for chefs to capitalize on that popularity by aggregating content and sharing creative ideas within a consolidated space.

“Overall, Instagram has been a great thing for chefs to embrace,” Krasilovsky says. “A little more attention to detail in presentation means more care on the plate, and that in turn affects the customer in the dining room as much as it appeals to the chef’s social media followers. Everyone wins.”

Insta-Glam: Six ways to make your food stand out.

  1. Invest in tools and training. Professional photographers often offer workshops for chefs to hone styling and photo-taking skills.

  2. Go behind the scenes. Back-of-house photos that show your team in action give fans what they want—the inside scoop. 

  3. Keep it real. Backgrounds, plating, and tableware are important. Just make sure these things are authentic to your brand and not forced.

  4. Post regularly and consistently. You won’t show up in feeds or searches if you only post occasionally.

  5. Be thoughtful with hashtags. This is how fans find your brand! Think about what your guests will search for and focus on terms that fit your dish.

  6. Prepare for the next wave. Video and audio are upping the ante for shared content. Ensure your posts have tactility, such as a sizzling pan or bubbling sauce.

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