Instagram is everywhere and in a previous post we discussed how to create Instagrammable food to promote your restaurant. However, for a restaurant’s purposes, Instagram is so much more than rainbow toast and unicorn shakes. It’s more than customers coming in, ordering something, photographing it and then sending it off to the digital world known as Instagram. Instead of sitting back and waiting, you want to take a proactive approach to Instagram, utilizing it as an integral part of your marketing platform by taking advantage of its format to show off your venue. By creating a space that is stunning to behold, you and your restaurant can become Instagram stars almost overnight.
Instagram and Your Restaurant
It’s hard to overstate the importance of Instagram to a restaurant’s success. The fabulously popular app has more than 130 million users a month who upload a whopping 45 million pictures a day. That’s a huge – and free – audience for you to play into. You want to make sure that your restaurant has a unique “persona”, that your space becomes highly searchable and that all you do to decorate your space will help it shine on Instagram
In the article, “Instagram is Pushing Restaurants to Be Kitschy, Colorful, and Irresistible to Photographers,” The Verge website explains why it’s critical to create a space that will attract users to your restaurant. The article is full of ideas for designing a physical space that will cause customers to post photos. Neon signs, exotic murals, banana-print wall paper (in the bathrooms!), and floor tiles with embedded messages are just some of the ideas that the article mentions that can help bring your restaurant to the forefront of Instagram traffic.
According to designer Hannah Collins. whereas once a restaurants design involved creating a comfortable and attractive space for diners while they are dining, now it’s vital to design a venue that looks good in pictures before they get there. Simply put, now a restaurant needs to have a unique photographable twist that will attract loads of hits. Collins remembers Instagram’s early days, when someone working on the marketing for a new restaurant asked her how it would photograph. She admits that then she resisted Instagram until, in an if-you-can’t-beat-‘em-join-‘em moment, she gave in and now acknowledges that being Instagrammable is a key element of her restaurant designs.
Look Down and Take a Picture
At Media Noche, a San-Francisco-based Cuban restaurant, the big feature is the floor. Once Collins capitulated to Instagram’s importance, she started searching for designs that would photograph well, and came upon photos in a magazine of dramatic floor tiles with an eye-catching pink-and-green floral design. She was able to custom make tiles with a similar motif and then build upon the theme with other design elements that visually conjured up the Cuban vibe she was aiming for, including a mural of pink flamingos and tropical wallpaper in the restrooms.
Her plan worked and when the restaurant opened it became an instant Instagram star thanks to restaurant-goers who promoted it with pictures of the attractive wallpaper, tiles, and mural. Media Noche’s owner says that the restaurant’s social media success has attracted tourists from as far away as China and Japan. “They see the photos and they say, ‘I want that for my Instagram,’” she says. The average guest takes pictures for 10 minutes before ordering anything and many bring tripods to better frame their shots. “It’s just really insane,” she says.
Let the Sun Shine In
Part of creating an Instagrammable restaurant is ensuring that the site has plenty of light for photographs. No longer does an ambience that features dim candlelight and heavily curtained windows cut it; romantic and dark is out, while bright and airy is in. No one can take a great picture without great lighting, so ensuring that your restaurant has enough light for customers to take good photos is probably the single most important thing you can do. Beautiful food in a poorly lit setting is like delicious food on chipped dinnerware or a torn tablecloth – it’s just not good fodder for a fantastic Instagram photo.
One restaurant is taking the issue of lighting one step further. The Food and Wine website article entitled, “Restaurant Gives Out Lighting Kits for Perfect Instagrams,” talks about the restaurant Dirty Bones, which is offering diners “Instagram packs” to help them with their photos. Each kit contains a portable LED camera light, a charger, a clip-on wide-angle camera lens, and a tripod selfie stick. A Dirty Bones spokesperson says, “We wanted to put together something that made it easier to get that perfect shot regardless of the lighting or time of day.”
At Bellota, a Spanish-themed restaurant in San Francisco, the emphasis on lighting can be seen at the bar, which is equipped with custom lamps that let patrons adjust the lighting to get the perfect shot. The lamps can be tilted or turned 180 degrees, and the light’s intensity can be adjusted up and down. Another feature allows patrons to rest their phones on the neck of the lamp – on a perfectly designed niche – to take a selfie.
Shareability is the Goal
To become Instagrammable based on your space and not just your food, everything is about shareability. Design elements should keep in mind how customers will eventually frame their photographs and how you can best capture the essence of your restaurant’s concept within the frame of an Instagram photograph that will hopefully be shared by thousands of followers.
In Brooklyn, New York, the Turk’s Inn restaurant has done everything it can to become an Instagram hit. The original Turk’s Inn was a Wisconsin restaurant that had walls full of flamboyant memorabilia and kitschy doodads, which the designers of the new venue in New York copied for their Instagrammability. Owner Varun Kataria says that Instagram is never far from his mind. He walks around the interior of his restaurant like a movie director, making Ls and squares with his fingers to frame each corner in his mind. “We literally think about framing our photographs, and how we can capture the essence of our experience within the square frame of Instagram specifically,” Kataria says. Ultimately, he says, restaurants are in the business of making memories, and “photos are the place where we store them.”
Take Your Best Shot
In “How Instagram Has Changed Restaurant Design – and the Way We Eat,” The Mic website discusses how, “while design has always been at the forefront of a restaurant, beautiful backdrops that take into consideration the lighting, the colors and the utensils are now becoming just as important as the food.” For owners and designers, Instagram hasn’t necessarily changed the way they do business, but it has affected how they conceptualize spaces. “Diners today are not just taking photos of their food, but of the whole table, especially if there are standout design features that call out where they are,” the article says.
The Mic suggests that owners carefully plan and research their restaurant’s design to achieve a décor that is “fully realized, aesthetically beautiful and magnetic from a guest’s photographic point of view.” So, for instance, a restaurant that boasts a 20-foot-long light fixture that stretches almost the full length of the space and has 300 bulbs of various shapes, sizes and textures, will garner loads of attention, as that kind of feature almost begs to be photographed. This type of show-stopping design element is exactly what Instagram users love, even if it may seem over the top to the uninitiated.
Let the Photographer Beware
Many restaurant owners still hope their cuisine, rather than their space, will be at the center of Instagram attention. Or, as one restaurateur says, “If during the dining experience people are looking only at the design and not the food, there’s a problem.” Chefs generally don’t want diners spending 20 minutes photographing a plate while the food gets cold — or only visiting their restaurant for a photo. Research shows that while the number of customers served daily in many successful restaurants remains the same, service has been significantly delayed thanks to smartphones. In 2007, diners weren’t taking photos of their food, but a decade later, more than 50% of customers take an average of three minutes photographing their plates and their surroundings… before they dig in.
Often, restaurants prepare food that is beautiful to look at but not so great to eat. As a result, as The New York Times put it, “Your Eyes Are Happier Than Your Stomach.” The author is wary of restaurants where the flavor and taste of the food takes a backseat to the visual aesthetics, which are meant to play to a “global club whose members, checking out their phones or laptops, constitute an invisible gallery in the dining room.” Unfortunately, he says, while it doesn’t happen all the time, often enough, the flavors aren’t as vivid as the image. The plated combinations often feel thrown together, as if the dishes were determined not by the chef’s palate but by a lottery. Restaurants, the author says, are sacrificing their food to the Instagram gods that demand that chefs create food with “enough razzle-dazzle to inspire its own hashtag.” In other words, there is the danger in this day and age that Instagramability will come at the expense of palatability.
Create an Instagram-Worthy Venue
In the era of social media, restaurants are increasingly reliant on social media for spreading the word. To distinguish yourself from other businesses, you have no choice but to make your restaurant as photogenic as possible. While serving up good food is still vital, you now want your restaurant itself to be front and center on Instagram, along with the menu offerings. To do so, make your restaurant as camera-friendly as possible. A memorable interior is an extension of your brand, so keep potential photographs in mind when you design your restaurant’s space.