How Instagram Has Changed the Restaurant Game

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?

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*Shameless Plug* – If you’re ever in Sausalito, CA check out the restaurant I used to hostess at called Copita Tequileria y Comida! It tastes delicious and looks good!


  1. emmaelennon · ·

    Instagram-centered design is so interesting in thinking about how the real world is adapting to social media and not the other way around! Also interesting to think about Yelp can stay competitive in light of Instagram — it seems like the two have different strategic priorities and therefore users, so how much will Yelp work to compete?

    1. s_courtney18 · ·

      I definitely think Yelp will win out the business side of this in the end since they have an actual revenue model. I would argue that both services have two different types of users, but more people would be likely to use Yelp if they pushed reviewers to post more pictures of their food and experiences.

  2. Personally, this blog speaks to me as most of my bookmarked videos on Instagram are food. What I have found even more addicting is videos on Instagram that tell a story about the restaurant and/or the food that they make. This speaks to the authenticity that you said is necessary as social media effects the restaurant world. Furthermore, these videos usually pop up on my explore page but sometimes the restaurants are located outside of the US. It would be interesting to examine the how these videos are recommended to Instagram users and the numbers behind how likely the viewer is to eat at the restaurant after viewing it’s food and story.

  3. fernanfu89 · ·

    This is a really interesting article. I use Instagram more for funny posts, such as 9GAG, among others, but recently have been following accounts that posts pictures of food, and it definitely makes me hungry. I definitely see my sister for example going to different restaurants just merely from Instagram posts, so this is definitely the easiest and most effective way to promote your brand or restaurant. I would be really interested to find out how cost effective would it be to contract one of these influences to promote your brand. I know that it will definitely bring you more followers and more likes but will the investment ultimately make sense from a financial perspective.

  4. Hilary_Gould · ·

    The rise of Instagram in the food world has definitely put a lot of pressure on restaurants not only making their food taste good, but also make it aesthetically pleasing. Most people don’t post much about the food quality and taste when they post on Instagram so I’m not sure it’ll ever truly replace food reviews or a site like Yelp, but it definitely has led to a lot of food fads and can drive traffic to restaurants. Having a lot of posts or people post pictures of your food is definitely a great marketing strategy.

  5. sherricheng5 · ·

    Awesome post! As a foodie myself, I totally fall into the trap of going to restaurants based on how pretty the food looked on Instagram. I partially agree with @Bostonfoodies’ comment about how Instagram is ruining food. Some people will try a restaurant based on social media only to find the food there less than mediocre. I think people tend to be more forgiving of below-average taste if the food is presented in a pleasing manner. However, good food is supposed to taste good, not just look it, so I totally see where @bostonfoodies is coming from.

  6. britt_hopkins4 · ·

    This is a great post. I’ve actually been wondering about this myself. I definitely spend more time than I would like to admit scrolling through @new_fork_city and Tasty videos on Instagram. I also wonder how authentic the posts of food on these account are. I’ve seen behind the scenes videos about shooting for Burger King and how they manipulate the pictures by using oil to make the food look shinier, using fake ingredients like red paint instead of ketchup, etc. I use Yelp a lot to help me decide on restaurants, but this shows exactly why places like DO got so much traffic at first until their customers started getting sick from the cookie dough. Things that Instagram doesn’t show you!

  7. Solid post! I’m left thinking about why food has been such an important aspect of social media. I think it’s because food is largely an experience good. People like to share those experiences and each dish is unique.

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