By Kaitlin Ohlinger, Foodable Contributor
Instagram was the fastest growing social media network of 2014. This is not exactly Earth-shattering news, and it has become almost standard practice for restaurants to utilize Instagram to engage with their customer base. Considering that Instagram is completely free, fast and not overly difficult, the question is: If you’re a restaurant, why aren’t you using Instagram?
If somehow you are currently unconvinced, check out the popular InstaFeeds of one of Portland’s most celebrated chefs, Vitaly Paley. Paley’s Place, Imperial, and the relatively new Portland Penny Diner all maintain unique and enticing accounts guaranteed to make you change your dinner plans.
Says Chef Paley: “As part of an overall ‘keeping us in the public’s eye,’ Instagram is a very easy and in-the-moment tool that is very effective in bringing in diners for that very dish we just posted about. We have to be careful not to be totally self-serving, and balance it out with other fun and perhaps non-food related images.”
For those that may be stuck in a 2010 social media mindset, what exactly is it about Instagram that makes it such a no-brainer for restaurants? To pinpoint this, we have to take note of some of human beings best and worst qualities, and why Instagram capitalizes on all of them. Instagram has surpassed the point of just a social media trend and become an incredibly powerful marketing tool.
1. Attention Span
Human beings have exceptionally short attention spans. In many respects, we have technology to thank for this. Ask anyone who works in a restaurant and they’ll surely tell you: people just don’t read menus anymore. That note about your entire party needing to be present before being seated? Never saw it. Oh this is Potato-LEEK soup? They stopped reading after the word Potato. It would be hilarious if it weren’t so true. This is where Instagram comes in. What do you do with an entire populous of individuals that don’t read things? Show them a picture. Almost 100 percent more effective, and if it's a truly good picture, their salivary glands will go to work just from the visual. You’ve just created the thought: “I need that.” And it took you all of one minute.
Not to focus strictly on the fleeting, distractible nature of human beings, also remember that people love to be involved in your restaurant world. They want to drool over your latest creation, but they also want to see a funny picture of your chef with an apron on his head. They want to see prep work, your ingredients, and your techniques. These are the little details that will make someone feel like they’re a part of what you’re creating, and cause them to return.
3. Voyeurism & Exhibitionism
Like it or not, people are deeply satisfied by knowing that other people are aware of the amazing thing they’re doing at that moment. It borders on a preoccupation at this point in time, in fact. When someone photographs a meal at your restaurant and posts it to Instagram, they are essentially providing you with free marketing. What they’re also doing is selling their experience. People come to your restaurant for your food, true. But they also come there after they’ve seen a moment or an experience and think, “I want to be in that moment.” Thanks to Instagram filters, almost any occasion can be made to look more appealing than it may have actually been. Millions of people exist entirely in this charade.
A Big Question: Does it Work?
You’re proud as punch because your Instagram post of that night’s special got 500 likes. What does that actually mean as far as that night’s service? Does Instagram reward with actual people in chairs? The short answer may actually be… sort of. Someone sees your post, they’re out and about in the area, and the “I need that” thought is planted. Those people will probably text their friends to see who wants to meet them in 30 minutes at your establishment. (Remember that short attention span we mentioned?) For the other 499 people, you have to be prepared to be in it for the long haul, to a certain extent.
With Instagram, you are letting them have a preview of what’s in store. If they follow you for several weeks before dining, you’ve still won. By the time they arrive, they feel like they know you.