This past Tuesday, I attended Business and Food Blogging, presented by the Carroll School of Management Honors Program and cohosted by Spoon University and BC Dining Services. It featured a panel of four different women, best known for their Boston-based food Instagram accounts @bostonfoodies, @BostonFoodJournal, @Chocolateforbasil, and @princessgloriachinfeasts. I wanted to get their take on the changing restaurant industry, and how social media can help businesses expand their word of mouth and reach new customers.
Instagram is completely changing the way businesses, especially restaurants, attract new customers and gain popularity. Since Instagram’s creation, many accounts, especially food accounts, have sprung up and reached unfound levels of fame. New trends such as avocado toast, ramen burgers, and sushi burritos (sushirritos) fill our feeds and make us question whether we should snap a pic or take a bite first. A valid point that @bostonfoodies referenced was brought up in a telling Boston Globe article titled “Instagram is ruining food, and I might be the only one who cares.” Think of beef stew—it’s delicious, flavorful, and ages nicely. The main issue with beef stew does not have to do with its complex flavors, but rather the fact that it is not photogenic. After all, would we want a picture of bland-looking, monochromatic beef stew popping up on our feeds? The answer is no—we want beautifully topped pizzas, stacks of multi-flavored donuts, and the contrast of a broken egg yolk spilling over avocado toast.
Restaurants, bakeries, and coffee shops alike face these challenges of demanding consumers, who want and seemingly need photogenic food and photogenic atmospheres in order to dine out. Millenials, the ones posting these pictures in the first place, spend about 44% of food dollars eating out, which is more than any generation before. This is where key influencers come to play: they’re accessible to restaurants and PR firms, have an eye for visually appealing settings and food, and most importantly, they have thousands of followers made up of many picture-hungry and food-hungry millenials. Although they seemingly just post pictures, they play a large role in the success of eateries across the world.
Influencers and restaurants as a pair make the perfect team, constantly working hand in hand. Quite aware of these accounts’ publicity and popularity, restaurants will invite so-called “foodies” in for a free meal, in exchange for an Instagram. Sometimes restaurants don’t even have to ask, and pictures of food or interior settings that are “Instagrammable” will just show up on these feeds unannounced. This is just the start, though. A single post from any given popular foodie will garner thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of impressions. With the ability to hashtag and geotag locations, these photos can reach even more people with the same given interests and searches. Restaurants now have the ability to target their exact audiences and naturally showcase their menu in a visual way. If a single post can influence 10 new people to try a restaurant, why not encourage more posts?
Restaurants aren’t just trying to access followers of influencers, though. They’re trying to get the attention of the average user, too, so that they additionally post pictures of their food and interior design, which they can share with an even wider network. It’s crazy to think that one social platform could change the way restaurants and eateries are created, but the trend of finding out where and what to eat on Instagram is steadily rising. Instead of using a singular website, such as Yelp, to find restaurants in a given location, people search additionally, if not solely, on Instagram. Whatever pops up visually gets clicked on, taking users from a geotagged city to a geotagged restaurant to a popular foodie account for a given city to even more options. Users, including myself, can spend hours searching through endless pictures of mouth-watering food, brightly lit interiors, and signature designs that please the eye, sometimes even forgetting what they were looking for in the first place. Instagram is a powerful, free tool that restaurants and businesses alike can utilize, even to the extent of designing their business around the tool itself—also known as Instagram-centered design. Not only do chefs worry about the presentation of their plates, but now restaurateurs and interior designers concern themselves with how to design physical spaces in the hopes of being “Instagrammable.” Restaurants are starting to commission neon signs, unique murals, and specialized tiling—all with the purpose of being post-able and shareable.
With increased sharing, all four panelists at Business and Food Blogging argued that it’s most important to stay authentic in such a digital world. A question looming in the back of my mind as I scroll through pictures of food is this: has the new age of the food industry lost its touch with the most important aspect of all food—the taste?