Instagram has been around for a while and, from its inception, the photo-based app has been positioned at the center of trends in food and beverages in general, and in the restaurant business in particular. Restaurants are offering rainbow-colored “unicorn foods” with Instagram in mind, and creating fabulous and original spaces, and then waiting for the lines to form after images of their products and menus go viral. In other words, right now, the most important thing a restaurant can do is figure out a way to be “Instagrammable.”
Space or Plate
Restaurants can appeal to Instagram in more than one way; they can design their space in the hopes of inspiring the most photos, or they can create menu offerings that will be perfect for Instagram photos. We’ll discuss the ways that restaurateurs are designing strikingly Instagrammable spaces around the country in an upcoming blog; meanwhile, let’s focus on colorful foods that seem picture perfect and tailor-made for Instagram.
There are billions of food-related pictures on Instagram, and thousands more are added every hour of every day around the world. When it comes to photos, the more colorful the better – and that goes for anything, including food. Welcome the unicorn! Unicorn food is any drink or food that has been decorated with ultra-colorful dye and add-ons, such as sprinkles, bits of fruit, or pretty much anything in technicolor hues. Unicorn beverages are garishly colorful and unicorn cakes sport multi-hued, flowing icing and the occasional single horn. Unicorn toast is a slice of bread, spread with color-tinged cream cheese. It may not sound appetizing but that’s not really the point, because it looks great on Instagram.
How It All Started
In an article entitled, “Unicorn Food Is Colorful, Sparkly, and Everywhere,” The New York Times covered the unicorn trend, following Starbucks’ introduction of its unicorn Frappuccinos. The author also interviewed Adeline Waugh, a Miami food stylist who is credited with helping to start the colorful-food trend in 2016 after experimenting with beetroot to add pizzazz to her photos. “I was never intending to start a trend,” Waugh said. “I posted it, and all my followers started saying it looked like a unicorn, so … I started calling it that too,” she said. “Then all of a sudden all these people were marking it and tagging it, and now the unicorn thing has gotten just insane.”
Along with Waugh, Paris-based cookbook author Sandra Mahut also saw the potential in multi-hued food, and her book, Unicorn Food, is a runaway bestseller. Sub-titled, “Natural Recipes for Edible Rainbows,” the cook book contains recipes for various colorful items such as rainbow vegetable sandwiches and unicorn sushi. “I guess people need to dream a little bit every day,” said Mahut, adding that the colorful food featured in her book is, “…very playful and funny and tasty and healthy. Plus, it is super Instagrammable!”
Restaurants Join the Trend
As long as the unicorn trend keeps gaining momentum, and being Instagrammable remains a key way for restaurants to spread the word (and the pictures), photo-worthy food is a must. According to a recent study, many 18-35-year-olds spend enormous amounts of time browsing food images on Instagram, and many say that they would avoid a restaurant if their Instagram presence is weak. People in this age group tend to check out a restaurant’s Instagram page ahead of a night out to see what they want to eat, so it’s not unusual for millennials to sit down in a restaurant having already decided what they’re going to order. In addition, because people in this age bracket spend so much time on social media, if they see a post on Facebook or Instagram of a delicious- looking, beautifully present menu item, they won’t think twice about searching it out and finding where it’s from.
Instagram Loves Color
Although millennials aren’t the only demographic hooked on Instagram, they are the largest and strongest by far. Regardless of who a restaurant is catering to, colorful foods look good on Instagram, so adding some unicorn now is highly recommended.
Blue Matcha Smoothies
There aren’t many blue-hued foods around, so any blue-colored food was bound to take Instagram by storm. Enter blue matcha, a natural indigo-colored powder that is showing up regularly on Instagram in the form of turquoise-toned “mermaid” smoothies and shockingly blue baked goods. Using blue matcha in foods is instantly Instagrammable, as is green matcha, a powder made from tea leaves. Both powders are said to have health benefits and are used as dietary supplements; however, what chefs and restaurateurs should be interested in is matcha’s color quotient, which is high. So to gain a stronger Instagram presence, use blue matcha in lattes, shakes, yogurt-based desserts, and cakes. The ZLiving website has a great article entitled “Blue Matcha: the Latest Food Trend on Instagram,” that includes a fabulous recipe for a Blue Matcha Smoothie that is sure to put your restaurant on the Instagram map.
Rainbow Grilled Cheese, Unicorn Melts, and Mermaid Toast
It’s amazing how a piece of bread and some cheese can be transformed into the most Instagrammable item on your menu. Enter Rainbow Grilled Cheese, a.k.a. Unicorn Melts, and watch the flashes pop. The original Rainbow Grilled Cheese hails from Kala Toast in Hong Kong, which makes its own cheeses that are infused with different of herbs and vegetables to create the colors. However, if cheese-making is not in the cards, all you have to do is add some food coloring to the shredded cheese before it is layered on the bread and you have the most spectacularly, multi-colored grilled cheese in the world.
Mermaid Toast is another creation brought to Instagram by Adeline Waugh, the Queen of Color. She uses a variety of blue algae powders and liquids mixed with almond-milk cream cheese to create this “ocean-inspired toast,” that is eye-catching in a kind of “can’t-look-away” way. Waugh suggests making the colors with beet juice (pink), turmeric root (yellow and orange), chlorophyll drops (green), freeze-dried blueberry powder (purple), and spirulina powder (blue). When you’re starting out in your pursuit of dazzling presentation, Waugh recommends that you use a small amount of color at first and then add slowly until you get your desired color.
Other Ways to Use Instagram to Market Your Restaurant
If all the color and zing of rainbow food doesn’t appeal to you and is not the type of food that will speak to your target audience, there are other ways to use Instagram to your advantage. Create an Instagram account and use it to introduce new items or show off favorite classics. To take the most alluring photos of your signature dishes, use natural light and a clean background, along with pretty props like an elegant place setting or a sparkling glass of wine.
Another way to use Instagram is to go behind the scenes and offer a peek into the kitchen while your staff is preparing for a special event or the dinner rush. Showing photos of the food-preparation process – and not just the end result – is a great way to get attention for your restaurant and to gain followers. Another option is to showcase your restaurant in real-time with livestream videos on Instagram Live. This is a fantastic way to engage followers and introduce them to your restaurant virtually so that they will yearn to see more in person.
Instagram Works for Your Restaurant
Every year, millions of food-related pictures are posted on social media, and Instagram is the most popular medium for all those picture-perfect dishes, snacks and drinks. Food has become a lifestyle, especially for millennials, and they are constantly in search of the ultimate food photograph, with perfectly composed food in a fabulous setting. As a result of the Instagram explosion, restaurant owners have no choice but to think out of the box about presentation. Appealing to Instagram users can make a huge difference to your bottom line. It brings attention to your restaurant and, done correctly, is worth a lot of valuable, free publicity.