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Restaurant Instagram 101

By: Stephanie Ganz of the Apple Cart 

SET THE SCENE

Guest posts on Instagram can be an effective tool for spreading authentic word-of-mouth experiences about your restaurant. Knowing that, it makes sense to plan for and embrace the inevitability that people are (ideally) going to be taking pictures of your food and decor.

Before you or your guests can start snapping and posting, it’s important to put the pieces in place to inspire great photography.

When considering interior design, look at lighting and how it plays with what you put on the table and on the plate. Intense overhead lighting casts dark shadows that take away from the content of the image. Maximize seating near natural light for daytime business, and consider adding candles to tabletops for a warm evening glow.

The interior itself should also be a point of focus for your guests. Curating art that fits your restaurant’s aesthetic, installing a living wall of plants, and creating points of intrigue around the dining room are some ways to give guests something to snap other than just what’s on the plate.

Even the tabletop itself can play an important role in the image your guests are able to create. A rustic wood finish usually makes white plates (and the food that’s on them) pop. And when in doubt, nothing beats a clean, grey marble surface on a bar or tabletop.

The scene behind the bar is another common area of focus. Make sure it reflects who you are in an intentional way. Step back from the bar occasionally to look at it from your guests’ perspective, and make sure it’s sending the message you want it to send.

FEED YOUR FEED

Of course, there’s more to this than sitting back and letting your customers do the snapping! Get in on the action, and capture your best dishes and moments to share with your audience. At its most basic level, Instagram is about pictures. More broadly, it’s about sharing images that can and should captivate and move people. The currency of Instagram seems to be the ability to make everyday things look beautiful or at least noteworthy.

An over lit, greasy-looking plate of food isn’t going to do it for anyone! Only share images that look beautiful, and use a critical eye when you post. 

That doesn’t mean that chefs and restaurateurs need to become professional photographers. Thanks to smartphones and photo editing tools, it’s now more possible than ever to capture a great image. Here are some simple tips:

  • Use natural light whenever possible. Stage photos during the day to post at peak hours (4:00-6:00 pm). Those are probably the hours when you’re busiest preparing for service, so plan to snap some pics earlier in the day or right before server tastings, when you have completed dishes available.
  • Frame your shot to tell a story. Sometimes a close-up of the plate can be ok, but what else can you include to help establish more of a sense of place? Consider adding a full table setting, a cloth napkin, a glass of wine, flowers, someone’s hands in motion, or other establishing elements that help give your viewers an idea of what’s going on in the picture.

    • One way to do this is to start with the plate by itself and add these elements, building the shot as you go, taking multiple pictures along the way. This gives you more mileage from one “photo shoot.” You can save the pics you don’t use right away to your cache for later.
    • Remember the old ‘Rule of Thirds.’ This simple art school technique can add intrigue to your image. All it means is that you should try playing around with moving the plate (or whatever you’re focusing on) to the upper or lower thirds of the frame. 
    • Play around with different angles. Snap from overhead and straight-on, and move around to find what works best.

  • Use the editing tools that are available to you! While some Instagram filters can make images look cartoonish and odd, filtering apps like VSCO provide user-friendly editing tools that allow users to control elements such as brightness, contrast, and sharpness. (VSCO provides tutorials for how to use their app!) Typically, using a few clicks of those three features will liven up a photograph immensely. Then import your image to Instagram, where you can further refine the image with the same tools. Other tools, such as saturation and shadow, can also help a dull image come to life. Just don’t go overboard!

You’re busy, and you probably don’t have a ton of time to spend on photography. Instead of spending an hour a day on one great shot, spend one day photographing a few different plates, ingredients, moments in the restaurant, etc.; and then create a folder of images on your phone that you can edit during downtime and post whenever you want. A good rule is to have about a week’s worth of images or more available at one time.

KEEP ‘EM POSTING

Even more valuable than the content you create for your own restaurant are the images that your guests share from their experiences. Encourage your guests to share by liking, commenting on, and re-gramming their content. (The Repost app makes regramming easy.) Let your guests know that you appreciate them taking the time to share their experience with their followers!

Establish a hashtag that guests can remember and use easily. This can be something that reflects the vibe of your restaurant, rather than simply #yourrestaurantnamehere. Think creatively about what you want people to associate with your restaurant. A hashtag should almost be like a mini tagline.

Consider offering Instagram-based promotions, especially during off hours. Try a monthly Instagram Happy Hour--the lighting is usually great around that time of day, and you’re almost certain to get several posts from such an activity. Put especially photogenic dishes and drinks on the happy hour menu to get this group advertising on your behalf.

Another approach is to create signage with Instagram-related promotions on each table or at strategic points throughout the restaurant. An example would be “Share a picture of your time with us, tag our account, and use our hashtag, and you’ll be entered in a monthly drawing for X.”

It could be a free lunch, office catering, 50% of their next purchase of X or more, or something along those lines. Just make sure that you follow through consistently on these promotions; otherwise, your audience may see them as scammy. Or, consider sharing info in a note on guest checks to let every paying customer know that you want to hear from them on Instagram. Some folks prefer to post long after their visit, but they should still enjoy the same perks.

Whatever you do, remember that Instagram is something that’s meant to be fun and light-hearted! Consistency is important, however, so consider setting up a simple Google or Outlook calendar with reminders to post at the frequency that you think is best.




Contributed By:
Stephanie Ganz. Stephanie is the co-owner of The Apple Cart, a Richmond, VA-based company that helps food businesses start and grow.