Consumers have always eaten with their eyes first. And now a staggering number also eat with their smartphones and social media accounts before picking up their fork.
A Mintel report on technology in restaurants in the US last year found 29.2 million people posted a food or drink picture to social media in just one month. And according to tech media company The Next Web, food photos are the second most popular category shared on Instagram.
It all boils down to one conclusion: restaurants and cafes now have to think about impressing not only the person sitting in their establishment, but the potential masses who may see a photo from the meal pop up in their various social media feeds.
And restaurants who encourage this food photography, with strategic menu planning and even stronger emphasis on presentation, can reap the benefits of what is essentially a cheap marketing tool – free and convincing user-generated advertising.
The reasons why consumers share photos of their food online can vary.
Sometimes, it’s simply carrying on a “this is what I ate today” food diary. Other times, it’s because the presentation of the food itself has some artistic merit that the diner wishes to share.
But often it’s due to a special occasion or the social nature of sitting down with friends and family around a table. Quite simply, people love taking and sharing photos from their celebrations, of which food is often a large part.
And there are a number of ways in which restaurants can capitalise on this thirst for sharing photos of food.
Menus that feature meals people know can be shared lend themselves to social sharing, as do ingredients that add “theatre” to a dish. For example, a good stretch of mozzarella can add theatre to a pizza snap (of which there are 19.5 million on Instagram).
Many restaurants have also found success in marketing their business through their own forays into sharing their dishes online.
In March, one of Australia’s top chefs, Darren Robertson, told the Australian Financial Review (AFR) his Three Blue Ducks restaurant posted frequently to their 32,000 Instagram followers – with desserts proving most popular.
"Desserts are quite Instagram-able, people go mad for them," he said.
Food critic Terry Durack echoed the importance of restaurants sharing online, telling the AFR sites like Instagram are a “visual snapshot of a restaurant’s menu style and philosophy”.
"We find our restaurants online, we book our restaurants online, we shoot our food and post it online. It's the sharing economy, we all want to know what everyone else is up to, and tell them what we're eating.”Mintel