Restaurant dining is having a moment, and Instagram, with its high-quality photos and power as a recommendation engine, is fueling the movement. As users capture their dining experiences through Instagram photos, videos, and Stories, their fans, friends and followers are venturing outside to find the best bites in their neighborhoods.
2016 marked the first year on record that people in the United States spent more money at restaurants and bars than they did at grocery stores, and affluent young people living in cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York are spending half of their food budgets on dining outside of their homes. People are becoming more interested in the experiences that come with eating out, and they’re sharing special moments in restaurants and bars on social media.
It may have started as a photo sharing platform, but Instagram’s becoming a bona fide recommendation engine. Creators share their lives on Instagram, and with that sharing comes a fair amount of recommending and endorsing, intentional or otherwise. As users post photos of well-plated brunches, next-level latte art, and drool-worthy entrees, hungry followers are filing away the information — new places to try, the new spot for the best Bánh mì, and the East Side’s best kept secrets.
With interest in dining out ratcheting up, recommendations become crucial. Diners are making decisions about where to spend their money, and, as the best chefs often say, “we eat with our eyes first.” Quality photos that capture delectable eats and top-notch experiences have the power to attract patrons, and experiences are beating out material goods in the competition for millennial money. Related Post: How Brands Market With Top Instagram Influencers
Instagram is an aspirational platform, and many of the platform’s top influencers are creators whose lives oscillate between #goals and swoon-worthy. It’s purpose-built for sharing the best, most interesting, most beautiful parts of our lives, and when our friends or favorite creators feature a product, service, restaurant, bar, or experience, that recommendation carries a lot of weight. Endorsements and shared experiences feel personal on Instagram, and because the platform’s tailored to put the highlights of our lives on display, when something makes the Instagram cut, it can feel like a five-star review.
Feeling HOT HOT HOT ? Spicy Seafood Pasta at @lavony, one of my fave dishes there! A post shared by CY Eats • Food+Travel • NYC/DC (@cy_eats) on
“After posting a few shots of a beach sunset during my vacation in Oaxaca earlier this month, I got an Instagram direct message from a friend: “What. Where? Want!”” says The Ringer’s Alyssa Bereznak. “In three simple words, she’d summarized Instagram’s ascent as an unlikely but incredibly effective recommendation app.”
Even so, as a recommendation platform, it’s far from perfect. As Bereznak points out, Instagram posts probably won’t tell you about slow service or being seated under the icy clutches of a full-blast air conditioner. These posts are great for enticing hungry users to try new spots, but they lack essential context.
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Dining establishments are capitalizing on the power of Instagram, leveraging the platform’s power by making themselves Instagram-worthy and encouraging recommendations, endorsements, and social sharing wherever possible.
Many bars and restaurants have their own presence on Instagram, too. Food and drink pics might be an obvious choice, but the most successful restaurant Instagrammers capture more than just the menu. Behind-the-scenes content featuring chefs, mixologists, and staff may help bring a bar or restaurant to life, making it feel more like a fixture of the neighborhood than another run-of-the-mill dining establishment.
A restaurant’s Instagram account is also an effective way to promote special events, menu changes, and specials. If used properly, Instagram accounts for bars and restaurants can be an effective way to connect with fans and potential patrons directly. It may start with a photo of beautifully plated crème brûlée, but the best culinary Instagrammers know that’s just the beginning. Restaurants and bars might also team up with influencers to spread the word. Influencer endorsements go a long way, and because reviews and recommendations are already such a vital part of the restaurant industry, those endorsements don’t feel as manufactured as they otherwise might. What’s more, extremely popular macro-influencers may give restaurants the added boost of attracting patrons who are into the idea of dining in the same place as one of their favorite social media stars.
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Plenty of establishments are also doing their best to make themselves Instagram-worthy in hopes of getting some free promotion from fans. Instagram users, whether they have 5 followers or 500,000, like to share beautiful photos. Restaurants and bars that lend themselves to attractive photos are more likely to be Instagrammed, and leads to a fair amount of free exposure on patrons’ Instagram feeds.
Locations like Alfred’s Coffee, with its iconic and instantly-recognizable “But First, Coffee” mantra, shows up on Instagram organically all the time, and that’s some of the best natural promotion an establishment can hope for.