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From Plate to Post: Instagram-Worthy Food Photos as Restaurant Marketing Tools
In a world bustling with food lovers, a dish’s journey from the kitchen to the spotlight on social media is an art form in itself. After all, forty-five percent of U.S. diners have visited a restaurant because of a social media post. It’s not just about tantalizing taste buds but also about capturing the charm, the visual symphony on a plate that calls to every Instagrammer.
From Plate to Post is a guide to creating Instagram-worthy food photographs that do more than look good—they tell a restaurant’s story, one delicious photo at a time, and bring in customers.
Instagram in the World of Restaurant Marketing
With over 133 million users, the United States has the second-largest Instagram audience in the world. With its visually appealing nature and large user base, Instagram is one of the best restaurant marketing tools restaurants can use to showcase their offerings, ambiance, and unique selling points engagingly and interactively.
A study by Jooyoung Hwang, Anita Eves, and Jason L. Steinmetz in 2021 states that sixty-eight percent of restaurant-goers in the US visited a restaurant they had never been to before based on its reviews on social media. This was influenced by several factors, including finding popular dishes and restaurants in line with the customer’s tastes and preferences.
The study also found that vivid and favorable images uploaded online influence customers’ restaurant selection. This is further strengthened by a survey conducted by the Independent in 2017, which states that people spend up to five days a year browsing aesthetic food images on Instagram.
One of the respondents in the survey stated,
“All my friends check out a restaurant’s Instagram page to see what we want when we go out for a meal.”
The trend has only become more concrete with advancements in technology over time. While this survey is seven years old, one can easily assume that the count will be significantly higher in 2024.
So, is Instagram an effective restaurant marketing tool? Let’s explore.
Is Instagram Restaurant Marketing Worth It?
Instagram is pivotal in restaurant marketing, but is it worth the hype it gets from marketers?
The answer is a loud yes!
In the age of social media, Instagram is one of the most powerful restaurant marketing tools out there from which restaurants and food places of all sizes can benefit. It offers them a platform to connect with potential customers, showcase their dishes, and build a strong brand identity.
A few reasons it’s totally worth the investment:
It’s visually driven.
Instagram has taken the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” to the next level. This visual platform provides restaurants with a perfect place to show the delectable appetizers, entrees, and desserts they have to offer through high-quality images and videos.
Allows engagement with customers.
With billions of users worldwide, Instagram fosters communication between restaurants and a large pool of potential customers through likes, comments, direct messages, stories, and reels. This helps them build a community around the brand and can lead to increased loyalty.
Helps with brand building.
Restaurants use Instagram to build and strengthen their brand identity. By sharing likable content, mouth-watering food photos, engagement and interaction with the audience, and using consistent themes and styles, restaurants can convey their brand personality and values to their audience.
Partnerships with influencers.
Collaborating with food bloggers and influencers can significantly boost a restaurant’s visibility. Endorsements and reviews from influencers with a substantial following can introduce a restaurant to a more extensive customer base in a more authentic and trusted way.
Encouraging users to post photos taken at the restaurant, along with tagging and writing reviews, helps restaurants with organic marketing. This is because the content posted by diners often feels more genuine—their excitement is visible, they often recommend certain dishes that they love, and they post appetizing photos.
Promotions and announcements.
Instagram provides an effective platform for promoting new offers, menus, locations, and events. Restaurants can utilize this to keep their followers up-to-date with what’s happening and build a positive image.
Builds connections through storytelling.
As a social channel, Instagram is more about building a picture for the audience than a place to generate some quick sales. Through posts and stories, restaurants can share their journey, talk more about their values, spotlight their staff, share the inspiration behind their popular dishes, show a sneak peek of the kitchen, and tell stories that make them more relatable and human.
“Imagine being able to order a meal that has been designed to include your favourite foods with a single click.”
Become locally discoverable
Many tourists and locals use Instagram to discover new places. Utilizing local restaurant marketing on Instagram puts a restaurant on the map for them.
Run targeted ads
Restaurants can use Instagram’s ad campaigns to target specific demographics, behaviors, and likes. This helps them reach the right audience and increases their ROI.
Instagram provides analytic tools that help restaurants understand their audience, including demographics, engagement rates, and the best times to post.
So, is Instagram restaurant marketing worth it? We’d say yes!
We don’t plate the food, but we do plate the picture.
Crafting strategies that sizzle and pop.
Browse our restaurant marketing solutions today.
Picture Perfect: The Picturesque Way to Take Instagram Food Photos
If it’s not a food photo that gives one hunger pangs, should it even be on a restaurant’s Instagram page?
From finding the correct angle to postproduction, we’re delving into all the ways restaurants can tempt their customers with drool-worthy Instagram food photos.
Here are a few options restaurant owners can choose from:
- Hire a professional photographer and oversee the process (can be time-consuming and expensive)
- Work with a restaurant marketing agency like us and let them handle it, from plate to post.
- Do it in-house (but professionally, like the pros do).
How can one make the photos look like a professional photographer shot them? We’ve rounded up a few easy tricks below:
Natural lighting for food photography
Ask any photographer, and they’ll emphasize the importance of lighting in capturing the perfect shot. Natural lighting, as opposed to artificial lighting can greatly enhance the tones and hues of the food photograph, bringing out even the subtlest details in the food, plates, and background.
When shooting food, seek out the best source of natural light or aim for the golden hours, which offer perfect lighting filled the sun’s golden hues. However, it’s important to avoid harsh sunlight as it can wash out the photos.
Note: Professionally photography is an art that utilizes light. No amount of props can salvage a shot that’s too burned or over-saturated. Both indoor and outdoor photography needs to be done in a slightly controlled environment with tools like diffusers or reflectors.
Use diffusers like sheer curtains to soften overly bright light. Steer clear of flash photography as it can distort the textures and colors of the food and consider using reflectors to evenly distribute the light and reduce the shadows for a more balanced and appealing image.
Located inside the NoMo Hotel, NoMo Kitchen’s gorgeous patio with lush greenery and roses makes the ideal space for capturing food photos in daylight. Look at how sublime the eggs benedict look in the photo above! This shot has captured the colors, textures, and the soft hues of the day.
Experiment with angles
There’s no correct angle that will always work for every photo. Sometimes, taking an overhead shot of the food works (best for displaying the layout of a dish), other times a close-up shot (macro food photography) to capture the detail in the food’s colors, textures, and layers. Taking these shots from a 30- to 45- degree angle can provide an appealing perspective that showcases the depth and detail of the dish effectively.
For a pro-looking food photography setup, play around with utensils, napkins, and other textures for the perfect shot. Test out what works best for the brand and develop a style that can be counted on, whether it’s minimalistic and clear food shots or ones with a cool backdrop.
Remember, practice makes perfect.
Here’s the Instagram feed of Pietro Nolita, a charming Italian restaurant in NYC known for its vibrant pink theme, a hallmark for their brand. Their motto? Pink as fuck. Their food photography skillfully experiments with various angles, creating an aesthetically pleasing vibe that accentuates their dishes and seamlessly aligns with their brand image.
Focus on the background, frame, and composition.
Pay attention to the background, frame, and composition of your food photography. Opt for neutrals like greys, fawns, beiges to keep the focus on the dish, avoiding cluttered or too colorful backdrops that might distract.
That said, a background doesn’t have to be simple, plain or dull—add subtle props, dry ingredients, and utensils to elevate it. Experiment with complementary colors, casually ruffle the napkin a little, and so on. Additionally, try using the rule of thirds in the composition to create dynamic, engaging images rather than static, lifeless ones.
Take a look at these delicious bagel photos from Black Seed Bagels, an artisan bagel shop in NYC serving wood-oven baked bagels.
The photograph on the left skillfully employs the rule of thirds, placing key elements of the image — the bagel, the blue background, and the negative space — along intersecting lines, creating a well-balanced and visually appealing composition. The contrast of the blue background with the cream cheese bagel adds to the allure, resulting in a brilliantly captured photo.
Get close to the subject.
Fill the frame, especially for foods with rich, sloppy textures like gooey cheese-filled burgers. Let the textures be the focal point of the photograph, allowing them to take center stage. Additionally, pay attention to lighting — soft diffused light can highlight the textures and details of the food, enhancing its appeal.
Charles Spence, a professor of experimental psychology and multisensory perception at the University of Oxford, states in an article by BBC:
“Our minds find protein in motion — oozing cheese and dribbling yolk, very attractive.”
Black Tap, with its timeless NYC vibe, regularly posts close-ups of its absolutely legendary burgers, Korean BBQ wings, picture-perfect crazy shakes, and craft beer.
Use a professional camera.
While smartphones can take great photos, professional cameras allow superior control over depth of field, focus, and exposure. They provide higher resolution, better color accuracy, and enhanced low-light performance. The manual settings in the camera allow for greater flexibility and the ability to capture sharper images. Plus, they also give the option to change lenses based on the photography need and have the capabilities to shoot in RAW format for advanced post-processing, making them a preferred choice for pros.
These beautiful spectacles of food art are a signature Grand Salon look. Mesmerizing, serene, and mouth-watering. Plated with passion, posted with perfection.
Do some postproduction
Photographs, whether taken from a phone or a camera, require at least some color correction, a task easily managed with tools like Adobe Lightroom or Afterlight. Adjust the brightness, contrast, saturation, and sharpness to make your image pop. Also pay attention to the white balance to ensure the colors, particularly of the food, are true to life. However, it’s crucial to maintain a balance — ensure the food still looks natural and avoid over-editing.
Look how Else Rooftop does this with all their photos, giving them a gorgeous sun-lit glow! All the colors, textures merged into one perfect piece of art that’s completely mesmerizing to look at and delicious to eat!
Keep it clean and simple
Avoid clutter. Keep the frame setting clean and simple to focus on the dish.
When focusing heavily on the dish and keeping it simple, Gramercy Tavern does it astoundingly well without being boring. On the left is this colorful work of art — a bed of sugar snap peas, radish, pistachios, and burrata placed on a simple background. A dish that is dreamy magical, and reminds one of sunshine. On the right, a bowl of divine simplicity — hold-folded tortellini, bok choy, celery, and lemon thyme.
No restaurant marketing campaign is complete without professional-looking food photographs that make one reach for the nearest snack. Keeping all of the above tips in mind, restaurants can instantly upgrade how their audience views them and their dishes.
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In the Spotlight: NYC Restaurants That Are Plating It Right
The magic of New York City never wanes. This haven for food lovers and Instagrammers boasts a kaleidoscope of restaurants that provide a feast for the tastebuds and eyes. Strolling through the bustling streets, there’s always a corner unfolding a delicious adventure.
Here are just a few of many:
Da Andrea Ristorante
A charming North Italian restaurant in West Village and Chelsea, Da Andrea Ristorante has been known for captivating hearts and palates for over two decades. Their menu is a testament to the art of homemade pasta, traditional Italian dishes, signature cocktails, and more.
Address: 35 W 13th St, New York, NY 10011
160 8th Ave, New York, NY 10011
Charles Pan-Fried Chicken
Charles Pan-Fried Chicken is a Harlem icon established by Charles Gabriel, a James Beard nominated chef. Known for its signature pan-fried chicken, the menu also features a variety of delectable go-tos, including smothered turkey wings, barbecue smoked chicken, and pulled pork.
Address: 340 W 145th St, New York, NY 10039
439 W 125th St, New York, NY 10027
146 W 72nd St, New York, NY 10023
1325 5th Ave, New York, NY 10026
Explore a vibrant burst of Peruvian flavors at Mission Ceviche. This Michelin-reviewed restaurant by Chef Jose Luis Chavez and Brice Mastroluca serves fresh seafood dishes bursting with zesty flavors as an ode to the cultures in Peru, blended with the bustling charm of New York City.
Address: 1400 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10021
Awarded a Michelin star recently, Crown Shy is Chef Kent’s first solo project. This stunning masterpiece, nestled in Manhattan’s towering skyline, exudes an air of sophistication. Each dish of theirs is a feast for the eyes and the taste buds—from grilled citrus marinated chicken down to their chocolate salted caramel tart; everything is simply perfection.
Address: 70 Pine Street Ground Floor, New York, NY 10005
Desi food that looks as gorgeous as it tastes: Junoon is a contemporary Indian restaurant created by restauranteur Rajesh Bhardwaj for his love for food and Indian culture. Winning Michelin stars eight years in a row, the restaurant offers a sub-continental feast for the eyes, the soul, the taste buds, and ‘gram. From vegetarian options to full-on meat delights, they serve a large variety of dishes for all, including the staples Lal Mas, Achari Paneer, Daal Makhni, Haleem, Garlic Naan, Shahi Tukra, and more.
Address: 19 W 24th St, New York, NY 10010
Each of these restaurants not only offers fantastic culinary experiences but also provides the perfect backdrop for that Instagram-worthy food photo.
Need to ‘Gram It Up? Let Us Handle It
Instagram is a great restaurant marketing tool, but many restaurants struggle with developing a voice online. That’s where a restaurant marketing agency like us comes in.
At Primi Digital, we help restaurants in New York navigate the complex waters of social media. While they focus on plating up deliciousness, we focus on creating a compelling, lasting online presence that brings in the numbers.
With over three decades of restaurant and brand marketing experience, we have a team of marketing experts who craft bespoke social media strategies and extraordinary grids that resonate with each unique brand voice and connect deeply with audiences.
Embrace the Primi Digital experience and become a success story in New York’s competitive F&B market.