Out of the last 40 pictures on my IPhone’s camera roll, 30 of them are of food. While this may sound excessive to some, it’s actually normal for my phone to have this many food pictures. To some extent, this is because I am a self-proclaimed foodie, defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary as “a person having an avid interest in the latest food fads.” This also, however, is due to the ever-changing shift in food culture. Today, food stands as a global centerpiece, sparking not just the conversation at your dinner table, but also across the digital interface.
Food reviews date back to the 1800s. In the 19th century, the first book of restaurant recommendations was created by the quintessential first foodie, Grimod de La Rey. In order to write, “L’Almanach des Gourmands,” Grimod invited chefs to cook for him as well as twelve of his luckiest friends to try and rate different meals. Once finished, Grimod compiled all of their opinions into a concise restaurant review and published it for the world to read. Grimod’s remarks sparked an ever-growing conversation about food, and expanded the power of word of mouth. Over the course of eight years, Grimod published eight works– detailing his experiences to his readers, while making or breaking the reputations of restaurants in his town.
Fast forward over 100 years, and American companies began to respond to the trend. In 1957, The New York Times was the first newspaper in the United States to publish a restaurant review section, and in 1980 Zagat became the first restaurant-review system to focus on customers’ experiences.
While the NY Times and Zagat reviews seem fairly similar to the work of Grimod, the era of food-reviews greatly expanded in 2004 with the creation of Yelp: a website created to connect consumers with local businesses based soley on people’s opinions and reviews.
How does Yelp Work? After going to a restaurant, Yelp enables customers to rate and write about their experience. Because of this, restaurants can no longer prepare for a food critic’s visit. Yelp reviews keep restaurant owners on their toes, as they are forced to treat every customer as if they were a restaurant critic. As little as one bad review can have detrimental effects on a restaurant’s image, as a result of the growing social network.
In addition to this, the strategies restaurants use to target customers has completely changed. In 2014, Yelp introduced Yelp Elite, a selective program that offers their best commentators invitations to try new restaurants in exchange for writing a review. Through this program, new restaurants are given the opportunity to invite Yelp Elite reviewers to try their food and write about it online. The premise of this new program is to expand new restaurants’ networks and to grow their reputations for future customers on Yelp.com.
In addition to Yelp, other social media platforms, particularly Instagram, have shifted the way restaurants connect with their consumers. See the examples below to find out how restaurants are doing this.
1. Many restaurants are incorporating social-media directly into their stores by having features that encourage customers to post about their experience on their personal accounts.
The Magnum Ice Cream Shop located in New York City is a perfect example. As soon as you walk in your eyes are met with eye-catching design, which includes four social media booths made specifically to take a picture of your customized ice-cream bar. By simply making the process of taking an Instagram-worthy photo easy for customers, the Magnum Ice Cream shop has capitalized on the digital age and created a relatively free advertising campaign. It can be found under the hashtag, #MagnumNYC, that the Magnum Ice Cream shop has had over 12,390 Instagram posts taken from their store– and those are just the posts that have no privacy settings.
2. Restaurants collaborate with popular Instagram accounts to publicize special, limited-edition items.
Popular dessert store DŌ (known for their scoops of gourmet, edible cookie dough in New York City) recently worked with the Instagram account @new_fork_city on their July flavor of the month “The Frosted Fork.” Under this collaboration, DŌ and @new_fork_city created a contest to incentivize customers to purchase and post DŌ’s flavor of the month. Through this collaboration, DO was able to target @New_fork_city’s 853,000 followers, prompting many of them to try out the new flavor before the month was up.
3. Restaurants sponsor food accounts to post pictures from their restaurants to attract customers, especially on national food holidays.
The well-known mexican restaurant, Dos Toros, paid @nyceeeeeats to post a picture of one of their tacos for National Guacamole Day. By doing this, Dos Toros was on all of @nyceeeeeats 330,000 followers’ news feeds, strategically making them crave that exact taco (pictured to the right) on their way home from work.
Personally, I have seen the influence that Instagram has had on the restaurant industry through my food Instagram account @food__city that I manage with my friends. Often when my friends and I post a photo, followers tag their friends in the comment section with responses such as “@jillian next stop!!” (see below) Through the simple act of posting a picture, the restaurants we post from gain new customers when followers simply scroll across our feed. In addition to this, I can attest to the fact that whenever my friends and I look for new restaurants to try, we always scroll through our favorite food accounts to gain inspiration and recommendations.
On another note, this past summer my friends and I were able to learn about the growing trend of Instagram sponsorship when the company Social Native emailed us to collaborate on different advertising campaigns for products such as Hershey’s Chocolate and Lay’s Potato Chips.
It is safe to say that through the door of our seemingly small food account, our eyes have been opened to the new age of digital marketing.
While you initially may have thought that the amount of food photos on my phone was crazy, I hope you now can understand why I have more pictures of food on my phone than I have of my friends. With every food picture I take, I do so with the motivation that our food account will continue to grow to one day be at the level of accounts such as @new_fork_city. Now, more than ever, people rely on social media for opinions on where they should eat, and @food__city is joining in on that trend. We may only have 2,250 followers to date, but I am confident that one day @food__city may turn my passion for food into a part-time career.