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Instagram and other social media platforms are changing eating out. A restaurant’s aesthetic appeal used to be secondary in importance behind food quality; now, the photogenic necessity of both interior design and food presentation are at the forefront of new restaurateurs’ minds.

With customers sharing pictures on Instagram, mid-market restaurants can now better compete with premium restaurants, regardless of culinary quality. As a result, restaurant owners are redesigning their restaurants with Instagram in mind: installing appropriate lighting, appealing backdrops and unique decorations. Chefs are also launching dishes with bright colours and unusual toppings, to promote sharing online.

Over the past few years, many of the largest food sensations have proliferated through social media posts. Cronuts, #freakshakes, rainbow bagels, cookie shots and the sushi burrito have all become famous through Instagram.

Starbucks’ infamous Unicorn Frappuccino had customers lining up outside the door, even though it received very mixed reviews. The limited-edition drink was released for only one week and was tagged in over 100,000 images on Instagram during that time.

London too, has its fair share of “Instagrammable” spots, including Sketch, famous for its pink interior and egg-shaped toilets, Bob Bob Ricard’s #pressforchampagne buttons, and Palm Vaults, Hackney’s newest Miami-inspired café which opened in late 2016 and quickly reached thousands of Instagram followers.  The Tower Bridge restaurant, Coppa Club, has had great success with its igloo-dining concept.

A strong social media following is also an effective way to capture customer data. Through customers’ posts, restaurants can see who they are attracting, which dishes are most popular, and which may need some presentation help. The more customers share photos of their meals or restaurant interiors, the more a restaurant’s reach extends to a wider audience. Even better, a social influencer can instantly raise the profile of a restaurant with a single post.

To maximise success on Instagram, it is important that restaurants engage with customers by:

  1. Being searchable
  2. Frequently posting high quality, appealing pictures of both food and atmosphere
  3. Always using #hashtags
  4. Integrating Instagram with other social media platforms
  5. Encouraging diners to post pictures by interacting with their posts through likes, comments, and reposting their pictures

However, it is important to note that Instagram-reliance is not a solution in itself. Even restaurants who have found a unique “Instagrammable” feature are usually copied, and while Instagram appeal may attract new customers, it is the basic requirements of running a good restaurant which will make customers want to return.

Emily McConnell