With over 100 million users, Instagram has become a vital component of restaurant marketing. People don’t just share their own snaps, but actively seek out restaurants and specific dishes or drinks that they’ve seen others post on the platform. Chefs have started to warm to Instagram, developing plates with outsized visual appeal in the hopes that digital likes will translate to real-life diners.
“Instagram is a way for us to show our guests exactly who we are and what we do,” says Porscha Pressler, social media manager for Los Angeles-based Superba Food + Bread, which has almost 20,000 Instagram followers. The two-unit brand excels at simple-but-stunning food photography: lots of overhead shots of clean plating full of bold colors and rich textures.
For Superba, Instagram is an avenue to connecting with its followers on an emotional level.
“We love images that make our followers feel something—whether that be hunger from a juicy burger or the warm coziness of enjoying a pastry at sunrise,” Pressler says.
For Miami’s Juvia, with more than 23,000 followers, Instagram is one of the cornerstones of its communications strategy. “People eat with their eyes, and we absolutely take that into account when developing dishes and cocktails,” says Sunny Oh, chef-partner of the Juvia Group. “We build dishes that are not only flavorful, but colorful and full of texture—we want all elements of the dish to shine through in the picture. Our goal is to entice anyone who sees our food on social media to be inclined to come in to dine.” The restaurant also uses its signature purple color on everything from straws to placemats to reinforce branding in pictures and beyond.
Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer with five locations in New York, Las Vegas, and Singapore, has always been an “Instagram first” brand, and its 321,000 followers prove it. With colorful, over-the-top Crazy Shakes and enormous double-decker burgers, every photo in its feed is followed by dozens of comments talking about how excited users are to visit the restaurant.
Black Tap has seen a direct correlation between how popular something is on Instagram and its popularity in the restaurant. After the brand posted its Royal Wedding Cake Shake to celebrate Meghan Markle’s wedding to Prince Harry, it sold out in every Black Tap location.
To give its feed some movement and reinforce the interactive elements of its menu to guests, Black Tap also likes to capture moments like cheese-pulls and cheers-ing on social.
The team at sports bar Parlay in Chicago has likewise found likes on Instagram correlate with orders at the restaurant. “We get many guests requesting dishes or drinks they have seen on our Instagram page. There are also diners who come in just to request menu items that they have seen on the Instagram pages of social media influencers,” says Joe Proppe, director of marketing and special events. The large-format Scrumdidilyumptious brunch cocktail, served in a gumball machine, is a great example of this phenomenon.
For many chefs who were working long before Instagram was born, the idea of adapting their cooking style to focus on photography first is a bit daunting. Some, like Ben Raupp, executive chef at The Lanes, a high-end bowling alley and restaurant concept located in the Howard hotel in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, have found unique ways to embrace the network. “Even though Instagram is pretty much unavoidable in dining today, it’s never been a driving force for me,” Raupp says. “I’m a bigger fan of coming up with a catchy dish name that’s worthy of Instagram.” The Macaulay Culkin cocktail, for example, was cheekily named after a failed attempt at crowd-sourcing name ideas on social media. “It’s a chocolate-covered-almonds-meets-a-classic-tequila-sour concoction that we could not come up with a name for, so we let our Instagram fans suggest names,” Rupp says. Unhappy with the suggestions, the restaurant decided to name the drink after actor Macaulay Culkin, who famously asked the internet for a middle name. “Now he’s named Macaulay Macaulay Culkin Culkin,” Rupp says.
But no matter how crazy the shake or colorful the plate, everyone seems to agree: taste first, Instagram second. As Raupp puts it, “My approach is always first and foremost to make the dish taste good, then, when designing the plating, I make sure the way the dish is presented reflects the heart and soul of the ingredients.”
- Large-Format Everything: Instagram is a social media network, so it only makes sense that social experiences get likes. Dishes and drinks made for sharing, like the Scrumdidlilyumptious cocktail at Chicago’s Parlay, which is served in a gumball machine, are always instant hits.
- Color! Color! Color!: Ask any Instagram-savvy restauranteur what the most important ingredient for a great ‘gram photo is, and they’ll all say the same: color. At Juvia, the restaurant uses its signature purple on everything from straws to placemats to reinforce branding.
- Interactive Elements: Whether it’s a silky sauce poured tableside, the ooze of a molten chocolate cake, or a plume of smoke from a charred-herb garnish, people love when their dishes come with a side of interaction. Black Tap Craft Burgers and Beer likes to capture moments like cheese-pulls and cheers-ing to give its feed some movement.