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The Instagram effect: & how you can create an 'instagrammable' dish

By: Grant King, HospitalityHub Writer
27 July, 2015

No matter the realities of our world, via pithy posts and equally carefully cropped photos, we can craft our online selves to be whatever we want our 500 friends to perceive us as.

Our online egos and quests for a few gigabytes of fame have also transformed the way professionals have to operate in our company. Bands can't play a bad gig for fear it goes viral. And now, thanks to Instagram, a chef can't plate a dish without worrying about a lopsided cracker

Meet the plate up paparazzi

Restaurant diners with high definition Smartphone cameras have become Instagram food photographers in a worldwide frenzy of epic proportions. At last count there were 178 million photos tagged #food on Instagram; another 56 million intriguingly tagged #foodporn.

Is this good news or bad news for chefs and restaurants generally? Well, for those chefs embracing the challenge, it's very good news indeed.

The less tasty side

Some chefs talk of customers being so obsessed with setting up a perfectly framed shot of their newly arrived dish, they let it go cold. It's as if the photo is more important than enjoying the dish itself.

This strange disassociation from what should be the dining experience has led many restaurants to ban cameras completely. Others are concerned that flavour is being sacrificed for colour as most genuinely tasty food is far from photogenic.

Whatever the case this strange new phenomenon shows no signs of abating. As long as mobile phones are around, making your dishes smile for the camera is the order of the day.

Food, glorious photoshopped food

Anyone with a camera and a bit of basic editing skill can now make magazine-quality photos of food. While some of these are undoubtedly a chef's worst nightmare, a good many are enhancing reputations and driving chefs to create plated works of art. In fact, a great shot of a new dish can cause a significant spike in reservations.

A growing number of restaurants and eateries are embracing Instagram and connecting with a new generation of consumers. A winery in Israel has even collaborated with a Tel Aviv restaurant to offer diners their meals on plates which are specially designed to look good on Instagram.

Instead of actually eating their food, customers are encouraged to share their perfectly curated snaps on Instagram with the hashtag #fdgr.

It seems image is everything

We all know the saying that people eat with their eyes first, this combined with the growing compulsion of diners who like to share a photo of every meal on social channels, puts the chef, or restaurateur, in an interesting position.

While you might find Instagram annoying at best, like it or lump it, its culture of sharing is not going anywhere soon. Ignoring it is like a wasted opportunity. And embracing it gives you the opportunity for increased exposure. Never has a diner's first impression been so important. And never has presentation been so essential.

So important, in fact, that parody chefs like @chefjacqueslamerde are doing the rounds on Instagram; he essentially plates-up junk food in such a way that it resembles haute cuisine. Amassing a following of over 77,000 people, aesthetically pleasing food is clearly trending and important, even if it's a total joke.

@chefjacqueslemerde plates-up junk food disguised as haute cuisine. L: a duo of pogos with marble 'cheeze' slices, honey ham rosettes, spongebob squarepants 'zoodles' and mustard tears. R: Some cupcake chunks, mints, cool whip and food colouring.

How to make an Instagram worthy dish

So how do you take advantage and serve up meals that compel your diners to pull out their phones and share snaps of your culinary genius on Instagram?

  • Be a minimalist: go with clean, simple, all-white plates so that your food can be the star attraction
  • Colour theory: think about what colours work well together, and what makes a colour pop. Use fresh herbs, sprouts and micro herbs. Think about interesting ways of presenting ingredients on a plate for different aesthetic effects. Thinly sliced radish into almost transparent circles, or spiralised carrots and zucchini keeps things interesting.
  • Use layers and textures: layers add depth to a dish, and textures break things up.
  • Don't crowd the plate: make sure your plate has negative space; it's a great way to draw the eye towards the most important details.

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