There can be no doubt that social media is revolutionizing the restaurant industry. With its heavy focus on imagery, Instagram is particularly powerful in shaping what and where people eat. Gone are the days when a verbose review from a popular food critic was needed to make or break a restaurant. Today, you just need a few customers with a few thousand Instagram followers (and an eye for food photography) to send your restaurant into the stratosphere.
Advocates of the medium say this trend is forcing a higher level of perfectionism in professional kitchens. Detractors argue that the focus on imagery may actually be hurting the industry – perhaps a little bit like putting a terrible wine in a bottle with a fabulous label. While the debate rages on, we thought it would be fun to focus on a couple of the major pros and cons of the Instagram-era for restaurants.
Instagram has created a peculiar phenomenon. Seemingly regular people with a penchant for self-promotion can quickly become nationwide “influencers.” This simply means that the world finds these folks so interesting that thousands upon thousands of people follow their Instagram feed and, oftentimes, heed their advice about where to shop, what to wear, and, of course, where to eat. In fact, some industry watchers report that consumers are 71% more likely to make a purchase when they’re received a referral from social media.
Although the influencer phenomenon has sparked a whole industry of sponsorship and paid promotion, there are still millions of “not-quite-influencers” who enjoy moderate popularity on Instagram and will promote your restaurant just because they like it. You never know when someone with a measly 2,000 followers will push out a photograph of your to-die-for grasshopper brownies – or how many of those followers are just blocks away with the munchies.
#2: Clean up your act
As a predominantly visual medium, Instagram has forced restaurants to clean up their act. As quickly as a photograph of your world-famous Chicken Kiev can fill your reservation book, a photo of the cockroach scattering out of the kitchen can leave your restaurant sounding like crickets. In other words, Instagram has created a demand for cleanliness.
This is good for consumers, good for food safety, and ultimately, good for the industry. Just remember that while you’re pressuring your chef to churn out photo-worthy entrees, the rest of your staff needs to be focused on creating a non-photo-worthy environment. No one wants to go to the place with dusty bookshelves, stacked plates in the corner, or restrooms littered with trash. When it comes to cleanliness, the goal is to be unmistakably unremarkable.
#1: Looks but no substance
One of the negative impacts Instagram may have on the restaurant industry is a focus on looks over flavor. Photos of your hamburger-slider-garnished bloody marys may bring people through the door for a while. However, if the reality is that the slider buns quickly grow slimy, fall into the drink, and turn it into a muddy mess, the people who came for the photo-op will never return.
A fair share of start-up restaurants have gone under due, in part, to a focus on looks over substance. It’s great to have photogenic meatloaf, but if it doesn’t taste good, you won’t survive.
#2: Slowing down service
Finally, restaurants that become too Insta-friendly may be alienating those customers who just want to eat. Patrons who are waiting to be seated can grow quickly frustrated when they look into a dining room filled with patrons gazing into their smartphones. The key is to encourage social sharing of your establishment’s awesomeness, without allowing it to impact the people who are truly there for the food.
In light of its ever-growing popularity, Instagram appears to be here to stay. And, as long as people are using Instagram, they will use it to spread the word about restaurants. Ultimately, it’s up to you to determine what that messaging is. Have fun!