And as Generation Y becomes Generation Z – the diners that have never been to a restaurant without their phone in their hand – social media is only going to become a more important part of the marketing mix for restaurateurs. Why wouldn’t they embrace it? In contrast to traditional marketing and advertising, it costs operators nothing but time – with much of that being spent by loyal customers spreading the word via their personal social media profiles – if they’re given the right ingredients.
“It’s an incredible thing that people choose to use their time and personal social media to promote businesses so it’s our responsibility as business owners to thank them and engage with them,” says Jen Pelka, who owns San Francisco champagne bar, The Riddler.
At The Riddler, everything was designed with Instagram in mind – from the champagne bottle mural on the wall outside to the custom-designed Parisian-style café tables, which are emblazoned with the restaurant’s tagline ‘hello, old friend’ – and it’s more than paid off.
“We ask people all the time how they heard about us and Instagram is our number one source of referrals,” Pelka says. “We really love the community of Instagrammers and the way they each uniquely capture the space and we leverage their photography and repurpose it on our own channels. Almost all of our content is generated by the community and we do a screengrab and repost it.”
Other operators that have made design decisions based on how their restaurants will appear on Instagram include ChaCha Matcha in New York, where absolutely everything – from the food and drink to the walls, doors and tables are pink and green – and Mama Kelly in Amsterdam, where the pink and gold aesthetic similarly extends to every aspect of the space.
“It’s about how you apply your brand not only to your sign, but also to your chairs, the wall, the books on the shelves – anything you can think of” explains Nicholas DeNitto, creative director of Los Angeles digital creative agency Manufactur. “What does it look like when people carry it out into the world and how does it tell your story?”
Elsewhere, the founders of London restaurant Dirty Bone have created ‘Instagram kits’ to encourage social sharing, which include an LED light, a clip-on wide camera lens, a selfie stick and a charger, while new steakhouse Boston Chops features a special Instagrammers table, which cost $10,000 to build and outfit, and includes customizable features that are controlled by guests via an app such as movable arm lights and adjustable light intensities and color temperature settings.
For San Francisco-based restaurant interior designer Hannah Collins, the key is to remember that Instagram isn’t the be all and end all when it comes to restaurant design.
“People will often say to me, ‘Did you do that so it’s Instagrammed?’” about a mural or tile design. The answer is no,” she says.” Creating beautiful designs that are concept driven is our priority. Not every element is intended for social media just some of it ends up there, which is completely flattering.
“That said, I would say it’s much easier for amateur photographers to take good looking photos in lighter brighter spaces so I think that’s a trend that has actually been set by the craze of Instagram.”
Other elements restaurateurs should think about if they’re looking to increase Instagram engagement include eye-catching wallpaper or wall art, quirky decorative floor tiles, unique signature dishes that photograph well, such as German chain What’s Beef!?’s burgers, neon signs and hanging plants, strategically placed hashtags and pieces that are unique to the city or region they’re in.
At US pizza chain &pizza, for example, every shop is designed differently, giving guests an experience that’s all about place making.
“Any photo a guest takes in the space will immediately connect them to ‘their shop’, not just another &pizza shop,” says a spokesperson from the brand. “This gives guests little moments to connect with the space and deepen their connection with the community.”
A couple of examples are the wood sculpture by Rubin on the walls at the NoMad branch, which talks about the architectural history of the Flatiron district, or the 118” tall brass ampersand in the U Street shop that gives a nod to the area’s jazz roots.
DeNitto believes too many businesses still ignore how they look on social media. “Unless you’re taking away people’s phones at the door, they are going to be sharing things about your business on social media – from reviews to selfies with friends in the bathroom,” he says. “It’s a mistake to close your eyes and hope for the best – why not use the tools that are at your disposal for free in most cases?”