RENO, Nev. — While dining out, it’s commonplace to see someone hovering over the table with a smartphone to capture that perfect overhead shot of the artfully plated peach, heirloom tomato and burrata salad.
Lately, we hardly notice a patron holding up his or her decadently garnished lavender martini against a bar’s funky wallpaper to snap that perfect ‘gram.
Indeed, social media — and Instagram specifically — has changed the way we dine. While eating has always been a visual experience, more so than ever, diners have high expectations when it comes to the aesthetics of their food and the venue where they eat it.
“(Instagram) is challenging restaurant owners, designers and branders to get more creative with not only their brand and their aesthetic in the location, but also with their food and dishes,” confirmed Amanda McLernon, founder of McLernon & Co., a social media marketing firm based in Reno and Denver.
In recent years, business review site Yelp has noticed an uptick in users searching for restaurants with reviews that include the word “Instagram.”
In August 2017, Yelp recorded a spike of 3,000 percent in searches containing the social media platform compared to just two years earlier.
Meanwhile, the hashtag #foodporn has nearly 170 million posts.
“I have planned entire vacations through finding places on Instagram that are aesthetically pleasing to me,” said Abbey Kay, a Reno-based social media influencer and blogger. “Whether it be because of the look of their restaurant, the food photography skills, or even how they deliver their brand, I will most likely visit if I think I will enjoy myself all while getting good content.”
Kay is often invited to restaurant grand openings in Reno specifically to share her experience online with her followers.
“I think Reno is finally starting to understand the positive effect that a social media presence can have on their business,” added Kay.
Rum Sugar Lime, a tropical-themed rum bar that opened this year in Midtown, is top of mind for Reno social media-ites when it comes to an establishment that has capitalized on the organic marketing potential of photo-happy Instagrammers.
Waiters donning tropical button-down shirts mix up beverages garnished with flowers and fruit and served in fun cocktail glasses. One of the most popular drinks comes in a copper pineapple-shaped container.
“Instagram is huge for us,” said Rum Sugar Lime co-owner Larry DeVincenzi. “Certainly for millennials who we are trying to attract on the weekends. It’s the No. 1 thing that everybody does.”
The rum bar has only been open five months, and already it’s been tagged in nearly 300 Instagram photos from public accounts.
DeVincenzi says the goal was not to create an “Instagrammable” establishment — it was just about creating a beautiful product and the rest occurred naturally.
Troy Cannan, the restaurateur behind the fine-dining establishment, LuLou’s, and the undeniably hip Japanese tavern, Kaubōi Izakaya, concurs.
While millennials may flock to Kaubōi, smartphones in hand, to document the East-meets-West interiors, bowls of ramen and sharable small plates, Instagram was the last thing on his mind when he dreamed up the space and menu two years ago.
“We’ve had LuLou’s for 20 years and that’s been a zero social media situation, including no website. But that’s a different type of restaurant altogether,” said Cannan. “For us here (at Kaubōi) it’s definitely had a positive impact in getting the word out. It seems to carry its own momentum.”
But some restaurants are a little more blatant in their approach to Instagrammers.
Zizzi, an Italian restaurant chain in the UK and Ireland, hired an influencer to train its staff to instruct diners on how to capture the perfect photo.
London-based restaurant Dirty Bones passes out free “Instagram kits” with a portable LED camera light, charger, clip-on wide-angle lens and tripod for overhead shots.
In Fountain Valley, California, Project Poke makes “donuts” out of sushi, while Lamanna’s Bakery in Toronto, Canada, creates gigantic slices of pepperoni pizza topped with smaller slices of pepperoni pizza.
In short, build something Instagrammable, and you can bet it will be shared in a way that is more tangible than word of mouth.
“It doesn’t have to be as aggressive as a very specific packaging or very specific design elements; it can be as simple as colorful chairs against a colorful wall,” said McLernon, referring to the oft-Instagrammed rainbow-colored chairs at West Street Market in Reno. “It just has to be something that is fun to shoot.”
Not only do these type of Instagram posts help get the word out to new customers, but it provides restaurants and bars with content to share across their platforms to stay engaged with their existing audience.
Though designing interiors and food with Instagram in mind is still a somewhat new concept, those in the social media game expect it will only continue to grow.
“I think Reno is playing catch-up to this concept,” said Kay. “Business owners are still going to create their business how they see fit, no matter what generation they come from. But I believe that my generation understands that we have this platform to share our passions with the world and the exposure happens with your first Instagram post.”