Nowadays, food photos dominate social media platforms especially Instagram. Restaurants took notice of this trend and are now pressured to remake their menu and interior decors to become “Instagram worthy,” such as custom flooring, aesthetically pleasing neon signs, and creative bathroom wallpapers. The free marketing opportunities associated with the platform benefits restaurants to attract more millennial customers.

Most restaurants started by investing on the eye-catching menus like Unicorn Frappuccino and rainbow bagels. These days, aside from focusing into visually appealing menus, they’re taking it to the next level by including costlier investments – from handmade tables to customized tiles.

According to Jen Pelka, the owner of a famous champagne bar “The Riddler” located in the heart of San Francisco, Instagram is like the new form of word of mouth. People discover her restaurant through the food photographs uploaded on Instagram. Pelka estimates that around half of her customers every night post photos of their time at the champagne bar. Most of her customers coming from out-of-town, also stated that they learned about The Riddler via Instagram.

Because of the champagne bottle mural outside The Riddler, it draws attention from bystanders and passersby to take photos. The enamel tables of the bar which are personalized are also aesthetically pleasing which attract customers to come inside. Moreover, the photo-worthy champagne bongs and the enormous champagne collection also catches the interest of new and old customers.

Pelka first saw the tables she used in The Riddler via Instagram from a Paris bistro called Clown Bar. Since the tables look visually attractive from those photos, she also ordered it for her champagne bar but personalized it into its white versions. Pelka knows that customers like to take pictures from overhead and photographs really look good on a white background.

The Riddler’s tables also have the bar’s name and tagline written over it – “Hello, old friend.” Every time customers take a snap of their food and share it via Instagram, their followers would immediately have an idea where they are even without checking the post’s location tag. Despite being an Instagram-friendly bar, Pelka also tries to prevent Instagram from taking over The Riddler. When night comes, the bright lighting at the bar is slightly dimmed to fit the atmosphere.

Vigor Branding principal Joseph Szala said that lighting is a key factor that clients always look for. Restaurants’ lighting should set the mood of the moment. In most instances, yellow lighting at night instead of the bright white light results in flattering photos.

Similar to The Riddler, the San Francisco sandwich joint “Media Noche” also got the idea for their most photographed design element from another restaurant. Owners of Media Noche Jessie Barker and Madelyn Markoe, got the inspiration for their restaurant’s design and decor when they went on a trip to Cuba. After their trip, they collaborated with Hannah Collins Designs to recreate Havana’s atmosphere. They came up with an interior design that includes uniquely customized tiles that give a feeling of being in Havana. They also added banana wallpapers for the bathroom.

Markoe said that they wanted the whole place to be photogenic, but at the same time, it should be in line with the food they offer and the restaurant’s Havana-inspired theme. Since it’s what catches the attention of most millennials today, their idea became a success. They weren’t anticipating Media Noche to be one of the popular Instagram hotspots in San Francisco.

When the restaurant opened in 2017, the two owners estimate that about half of Media Noche’s customers post their experience on Instagram, whether it’s a picture of the restaurants signature Cuban sandwich or just a shoe photo against the brightly colored tiles. Media Noche also pulls in some extra revenue by allowing photographers to use the restaurant as a shooting location for photo shoots and advertisements.

Branding Experts’ Caution to Restaurants

Aside from getting the attention of potential customers to visit the place, the real challenge here is to get them to return. Branding experts remind restaurants that social media should only be a part of the customer’s experience. Remaining authentic to your brand is what’s more important. It’s crucial that you’re smart about how you plan the Instagram-worthy elements in your restaurant. There must be a purpose behind your plan because people can easily smell phony and you’ll only going to trick them once.

According to the CEO and co-founder of State of Mind Partners, Mike Kelly, one way to keep the brand’s legitimacy is by not paying Instagram influencers who are people with thousands to millions of followers. If your restaurant’s social media presence is authentic, you can help expand your brand to new markets by introducing it to new customers while including some special touches that are relevant to a particular community.

Kelly also added that Instagram is beneficial to restaurant groups when they move into different regions and territories. For instance, the vegan restaurant chain “By Chloe” in New York has been adding its signature design touches in all of its locations to attract customers to visit all the chains. Since its opening, the restaurant has initially used Instagram-worthy neon signs on its doors to attract diners. As a result, customers upload their pictures online and tag the chain.

Co-founder Samantha Wasser said that when By Chloe first opened, the population of customers were mostly young females who like using Instagram. As the restaurant expanded through time, it’s customer base also grew wider.

The “Instagram-worthy” trend is limited among small restaurants, but now, larger chains are also following the trend. Yum Brands’ Taco Bell, for instance, is looking into reaching millennials in the urban area through its Cantinas, which are modern urban inspired chains that serve Taco Bell’s classic menus.