Thirty per cent of people age 18 to 35 say they won’t dine at a restaurant with a bad online presence, Zizzi reports. On average, this group will spend five days per year browsing food images on Instagram.
Visit any restaurant or café in London, and you’re likely to see at least one social media lover taking flat lay photos of their meal or cappuccino before digging in. It seems the restaurant industry has caught onto this trend, carefully curating their spaces for optimum photogenicity. Now, consumers are able to visit the most “Instagrammable” places in London to get the perfect snapshot for social. But how has this focus on aesthetic changed the way restaurants market to their audience? And how does the average consumer choose where to spend their money in this growing sector?
Lauren Knight is a lifestyle blogger, an American expat in London writing about family and travel. Her Instagram, Aspiring Kennedy, has nearly 22,000 followers, and her blog of the same name attracts thousands of hits per month. As someone working in social media, Knight said a restaurant’s social media presence affects her decisions as a consumer.
“It helps me find great spaces when I travel that I may not know about otherwise,” Knight said. “I bookmark spots in London to take my kids and my husband on date nights. It introduces me to a myriad of products and places I wouldn’t otherwise be aware of.”
As far as aesthetics go, Knight said the environment plays a huge part in where she eats, but she feels this was true before Instagram as well.
Knight said: “When a place is beautiful, it makes the entire experience enjoyable. Waiters serving drinks on frosted glasses whilst wearing white gloves, sprigs is fresh herbs tucked into highballs of muted drinks and sunny terraces do more than just look pretty on pictures—they elevate the environment from ordinary to something special.”
This drive to find an extraordinary experience in dining is true of most young people, according to research conducted by Zizzi in 2017. They reported that 18-35-year-olds spend five whole days a year browsing food images on Instagram, and 30 per cent of those consumers said they would avoid a restaurant if their Instagram presence was weak.
In short, Instagram can make or break your business, especially if you’re in the food industry. In a media-driven world, online presence is an essential tool for cafes, restaurants, and other food venues, especially upcoming ones—and a fantastic opportunity to gain traction, attract new customers, and boost revenue.
Take Élan Café, for example: with four beautiful central London locations, including a new space at the top of Selfridges, this chain has been voted by numerous sources such as Evening Standard as one of the most “Instagrammable” spots in the city. Walk into any of their spaces and you’re surrounding by floral walls of purple and pink, velvet chairs and marble tables—perfect for getting the best ‘gram.
Marketing & PR Manager Sahar Mahdavian spends her time growing their following online, which is currently 200,000 on Instagram, their top platform. Mahdavian said that marketing via social media is crucial to their business, as they often partner with bloggers or influencers. The influencer gets a beautiful, unique shot for their feed, and Élan gets the credibility, as the influencer’s followers will likely check their profile and post.
And even if these followers have not yet visited Élan, they will likely do so in the future if they are able. Zizzi also reported that 59.5 per cent of people following food venues have already spent money or plan to do so in the future. With that sizeable percentage, it’s evident that Instagram marketing is well worth the monetary investment.
But it’s not all about revenue. With Instagram marketing you can grow your brand awareness and build partnerships like Élan is doing. Zizzi reported that 38 per cent of people surveyed also said they follow food brands because they want to learn more about the venue; they’re potential customers. They also stated that a staggering 75 per cent of Instagram users take action after looking at an Instagram advertising post.
A beautiful space and a good Instagram theme seem to be the new “word of mouth” for most social users, according to Knight.
“There is an underlying sense of trust that I give to places that create a pleasing aesthetic,” Knight said. “In some ways, it feels like that if they can understand how to make a place look then they will also just get how food should be prepared, too.”
On the other hand, Knight said it takes more than an Instagrammable space to create an experience. Without ambiance, she said, the constant posing and photo-taking falls flat. There are clearly plenty of restaurants in London doing well without sleek grids on their Instagram homepage. The catch is, these places have been around and doing well with locals for a while.
Ida Restaurant in Queens Park is a family-run Italian eatery and a hit with the locals. According to Simonetta Wenkert, she and her husband Avi opened the restaurant 11 years ago after leaving their jobs. The small corner restaurant has now grown, filling all its tables each night with a line out the door. Wenkert said their quality of food and homemade pastas speak for them without the need for photos or social media. The dimly-lit restaurant, the walls lined with antique postcards and film posters, and the hum of music and diners, provide ambiance along with excellent food.
This experience, Knight said, cannot always be captured in a photo. She said she feels somewhat responsible for the Instagram-driven behavior of consumers in eateries.
“It’s part of my job to highlight these spaces that are designed to Instagram well,” Knight said. “They are wildly popular, and it’s important for me to know them and document them to be relevant.”
Knight said it’s also important to her to be able to recommend the Instagram hits and the lesser-known places with incredible food.
“Sure, Elan has a pretty latte and croissant, but the real deal is a latte and almond croissant from Ottolenghi,” Knight said. “If you go to them both, you’ll know that—even if Ottolenghi doesn’t have a wall of roses to snap a picture of your coffee in front of when you’re there.”