3 Big Ways Instagram is Changing Restaurants

Millennials eat out more than other generations, and more than one-third of them are on Instagram.

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By Greg Hong • Jul 7, 2016 Originally published Jul 7, 2016

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When you walk into a restaurant, it's still quite likely that someone might take your order down with a pen and paper. Restaurants have run well without many technological advancements for centuries. But recently, the hospitality industry as a whole has begun to embrace technology in many ways - from the way they accept reservations and manage their waitlists to the way you're able to pay your bill.

Among all the tech advancements impacting dining, social media is causing visible changes to the restaurant experience, especially Instagram, the mobile photo-sharing service that has taken the world by storm in six short years.

Prominent restaurants, like Per Se in New York and Fat Duck in the UK, discourage flash photography. Instead, most restaurants ended up embracing the fast-growing Instagram as a new marketing tool and a way to connect with their diners. It makes sense.

Millennials dine out more than any previous generation. According to Restaurant Marketing Labs, millennials spend $174 a month at restaurants, and there are nearly 50 million millennials on Instagram in the U.S. alone. With the rise in popularity of Instagram, restaurants have adapted to be more tech friendly by recognizing their new more photo-obsessed diners in three ways.

1. Decor and design has become more important.

Decor and design has become an increasingly important part of the dining experience, as people now pay more attention to elements, like the art on the walls, the way the table surface contrasts with the plate and the lighting.

The growing emphasis on design is not just a coincidence. In fact, acclaimed New York restaurateur Michael Chernow noted its importance when designing his photo-friendly seafood spot Seamore's - a light-filled, beachy eatery with bright pops of color.

"Instagram was absolutely, 100 percent taken into account," he said.

Related: You Can Now Schedule Instagram Posts Through Hootsuite -- But There's a Catch

Ken Fulk, restaurant interior designer who worked on Sadelle's, a hot new spot from Major Food Group, echoed these sentiments.

"You get inspired by [Instagram], because people have become great at documenting spaces and things... You now have literally millions of people out there posting these beautiful images, and how could you not be inspired by it?"

Investing in design is an investment in crowdsourced social media marketing, which is essential in today's digitally driven consumer market.

2. Presentation of the food has become more important.

The Instagram trend has also led to more creative presentations of food and a greater emphasis on plating. One of the most popular dishes to crop up on the food scene in 2016 - thanks to the viral nature of social media -- is the milkshake from Black Tap Craft Burgers and Beer in New York. The milkshakes are outrageously decorated, colorful masterpieces that are a social media match made in heaven.

According to Black Tap's chef Joe Isidori, Instagram has made Black Tap into one of the biggest food trends of this year. Every time we post a new collaboration or milkshake, the photos seem to go viral, and lines at the restaurant continue to build - the momentum never stops."

Related: Instagram is Too Large for Your Business to Ignore

As reported by Bloomberg, even fast-food spots have hopped on the Instagram train.

Casual restaurant chain Chili's has decided to cater to this marketing goldmine by serving fries now in stainless steel dishes and changing the buns on their burgers to be more aesthetically pleasing, as encouraged by Wyman Roberts, CEO of Chili's parent company, Brinker International Inc.

Delivering a more inspired presentation, which contributes to a great overall experience for the diner - one that they'll share over and over again -- is now part of the equation for a restaurant's success.

3. Branded moments made for social sharing have become more important.

We're also seeing a shift in how restaurants are creating purposeful, Instagrammable moments with special touches designed to entice social sharing.

At Dante, a popular Italian restaurant in New York, special cocktails are made with custom ice, stamped with the restaurant's name. This touch is branded, memorable, extremely shareable and effective, with many diners posting photos of their drinks and the cubes to their followers.

Related: 9 Tools to Improve Your Instagram Marketing

Similarly, Mission Chinese Food, The Lucky Bee and ZZ's Clam Bar also purposefully present their drinks in a super stunning and unique way. Think whole coconuts, purple illuminating light bulbs and brass pineapples as glasses. When diners Instagram these drinks, often the photos could even go without an explanation of where they're from because they're so iconic. Followers recognize where that item is from.

With customers photographing and Instagramming the entire dining experience these days, restaurants have become incredibly thoughtful about more than just their menus. From plating to decor, the entire dining experience is a necessary focus.

Greg Hong

Co-Founder and Board Director of Reserve

Greg Hong is the CEO, co-Founder and board director of Reserve, a dining concierge service that makes every part of the dining experience better. Hong is an accomplished writer and speaker, and is an authority on restaurant technology, mobile payment, small business issues and solutions, entrepreneurship and millennials. He comments on the restaurant industry on Reserve's blog, where you can also find restaurant recommendations and dining insights. 

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