Amuse Yeux: The social media challenge for restaurants

James Varlow discusses the challenges and opportunities of social media for restaurant operators.
James Varlow

June 20, 2018

The proliferation of social media has transformed the way we communicate and express our views. Anyone with a device and an internet connection has the ability to voice their opinion to a global audience across a number of different channels.

Facebook is the most used platform amongst UK internet users aged between 16 and 65, with 71% claiming to access. However, within the food and drink space, millennials are at the forefront of a social-culinary revolution with 69% taking a photo of their food before eating, and commonly using Instagram to seek out, share and review their dining experiences, and at serious volumes. Today there are over 380 million posts under #foodporn and #food. Such is the popularity that the app has 800 million monthly active users, up from 700 million in April 2017. It’s now de rigeur to take photos - or Boomerangs - of your meals and post them on Instagram.   

So how does it work? You can search for photos of subjects, for example 'best pizza' and follow. Moreover, by simply by adding hashtags e.g. #bestpizza to your photos, people can discover them and may choose to follow you.

However, for food and drink operators this creates both challenges and opportunities. We’re not just using the photo-sharing social network to document what we’re eating, we’re also using it to decide where to eat too.  According to research by Zizzi, 18-35-year-olds spend five days a year browsing food images on Instagram, and 30% avoid a restaurant if the Instagram presence is weak.

For operators, presenting the food or décor of a restaurant as ‘Instagrammable’ as possible is an effective way to drive footfall. Maxwell’s routinely produce innovative sharable food items: the burger cheesebomb, unicorn freakshakes and donut burger; estimated to have generated an extra £1m worth of sales in the last two years (as Roger has talked about previously). It’s also an opportunity for lesser known brands to get noticed and make a name for themselves online. London-based Instagram hotspots such as Bob Bob Ricard, a Soho restaurant equipped with a ‘Press for Champagne’ button, or Sketch, a Mayfair restaurant with an all pink interior and egg-shaped toilets are examples of recent success stories.

But this approach is not for everyone. Some might say the race to ‘#instafood’ stardom can run the risk of prioritising style over substance. Novelty dishes and décor are great at generating short term interest, but long-term repeat custom is primarily based on a great customer experience.

Whether you become a slave to Instagram or not, it’s vital for operators to have an effective and active online presence. Consumers value transparency, openness and accountability and therefore being able to respond to reviews is becoming an integral component of building brand credibility. For larger operators, with a national footprint, bespoke customer feedback dashboards are being utilised to manage the sheer volume of online reviews.

Those less convinced by the benefit of social media as a marketing driver will point towards word of mouth as being the tried and tested method of getting feet through the door. While this is undoubtedly true, it is important to bear in mind that the way people communicate ‘word of mouth’ is becoming increasingly digitalised and social media platforms are very much the catalyst for this change.

This piece was originally published in Casual Dining Magazine.

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