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#FoodPorn: How restaurants can cash in on the Instagram marketing revolution

By Liam Garrahan , 22-Jan-2016

Image Credit: DeanDrobot / Thinkstock
Image Credit: DeanDrobot / Thinkstock

Over 78m images have been tagged with #FoodPorn on Instagram, with a further 173m posts tagged #Food. With interest in this area so high, what can restaurants do to cash in on the social network? 

Karen Fewell, director of Digital Blonde and founder of the Food Marketing School, says Instagram is not only a forum to display images of your hard work, but if done well, could result in more custom coming through your restaurant’s door.  

“As humans we form gut reactions in three seconds or less. Our brains process images 60,000 times faster than information received in text form,” she says.

“When you consider what is happening in the brain and how it responds to images of food, Instagram can be a very powerful tool for communicating with your restaurant customers. Research has shown that looking at pictures of highly palatable food, can chronically activate our desire to eat – even in the absence of true hunger.”

On the campaign trail

Before setting up an account and posting a load of images, however, Fewell advises taking some time to think about the long term prospects of doing so as Instagram is markedly different from other social networks.

She believes it is important to think beyond short-term promotion on Instagram and instead delve deeper into customer behavior to figure out the long-term benefits of having an account.

“Every day we make around 200 decisions about food and most of these are made subconsciously. In fact, as humans we make most of our decisions emotionally as opposed to rationally, so if you want to be part of this decision making process, your restaurant’s marketing activity needs to appeal to the emotional part of the brain,” she says.

Creating an image that catches the eye

“Some people think that because social media is instant you don’t need to put as much care and attention into the presentation of the dish, but you can only work with what’s been put in front of you,” says food photographer, John Carey .

“Prepare dishes that will naturally photograph well and take the time to present them – everything comes down to presentation.”

He advises to highlight the individuality of the dishes and emphasise their merits.

“The size that Instagram photos come up as on Twitter allows you to get the most from shooting from above, it can be very nice and very graphic. It doesn’t work with every dish, especially those that have layers as you’re going to flatten them and lose that, but that’s another thing to consider when you’re presenting a dish – how is it going to be photographed?”

Carey, who doesn’t use a food stylist in his photography work and instead spruces up dishes himself with a dab of oil or a spray of water, says that you must consider everything that’s in the frame, use natural light and be wary of using filters.

“As a general rule I’ll be very careful with filters and wouldn’t go too crazy with them as they can affect the colour of the food, however I wouldn’t avoid them totally, there are some nice ones such as the vignette which darkens around the corner and leads your eye into the frame.”

Aiming for consistency

Having consistent imagery is an issue that can’t be overlooked, especially when it comes to the technology used to capture the photo. It can make a big difference to how your account looks and feels if the images are constantly jumping between DSLR and phone shots.

“If you’re going to try to make it look a lot more premium and slick you need to shoot it with a camera as you do any other photography website, then you put that through your social media. It can look wrong if you do that then throw in the odd phone shots. There needs to be a sense of consistency there,” says Carey.

“I think the whole point of social media is that it is a lot more instant, a lot more spontaneous, so if you’re going to do it with a phone I think you need to develop a style and consistency that works.”

The right equipment and the right people

If you do go down the DSLR route you’re going to need the right equipment, and if you can’t afford the top-end kit then make the most out of what you have.

“There are so many delicious lenses, cameras and lighting systems out there that you could go on forever upgrading your kit,” says food photographer, Jodi Hinds .

“However, a workman never blames his tools. Whatever kit you have, learn to make the most of it, make the cameras work for you and push them to their limit – they love it.”

Food photography isn’t just about the images that you produce, it is also about vision. You need to visiualise the image whilst cooking the dish, and if can’t do that then find someone who can; your potential customers will notice the difference.

“If you don't have the inclination to have a go yourself, find a professional photographer who will see the whole of your business, the life of your restaurant, the experience of your customers and be able to capture the atmosphere as well as the dishes themselves. 

“Each eating experience for the customer is about memories – celebrating special occasions, time to stop and enjoy food, good company and excellent service. A good photographer can help you to communicate this experience through their images.”

Top 10 Instagram food hashtags

  • #Foodie
  • #FoodPorn
  • #Nomnomnom
  • #Yummy
  • #Hungry
  • #Foodgasm
  • #Food
  • #FoodBaby
  • #CleanEating

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