Why Instagram is the Best Thing to Hit Diners Since Chefs
How the social media hub and food porn are benefitting restaurants
Chef Christian Petroni's favorite dish, “Pastasciutto” —spaghetti with tomato, basil, and Chili.
photo by Chef Petroni
Back in the day, this is how some of you ordered at restaurants: “Hi. Uh, can you tell me…what do you recommend tonight?” Now, when you ask this question, your waiter is faced with a dilemma. Should he a) recommend the dish that the chef specifically told him to push or b) tell you about the dish that the kitchen had fun cooking that night?
With Instagram, diners are cutting out the middleman. If you follow your favorite restaurant’s Instagram, chances are, you already know the dish the kitchen is excited about. If the chef is an avid poster on Instagram—say, Chef Eric Gabrynowicz of Restaurant North, Chef Christian Petroni of Fortina, or Chef David DiBari of The Cookery—he’ll already have uploaded an image of his favorite menu item onto his Instagram account that night. Generally, it’s only the fun, very cheffy dishes that wind up on Instagram. No matter how delicious, your favorite standards won’t pop up anytime soon. Says Gabrynowicz, “I’m not putting anything on Instagram that I’m not really excited about.”
There’s good reason for Gabrynowicz to be choosy about what he posts. As often as not, his Instagram posts are being enjoyed by other chefs. The camera phone snaps of dishes rolling down the average chef’s Instagram feed is a virtual art gallery. Says Gabrynowicz, “I get tons of inspiration on Instagram. We share ideas on it—about specific ingredients, plating, and sometimes techniques. I’ve seen people post before-and-after pictures of dishes on Instagram—they’ll post an image of a dish before the kitchen was inspired by another chef’s dish on Instagram and then another picture of the dish after they were inspired. Sometimes we look at another chef’s work on Instagram and go, ‘F***, I never thought of that before!’”
But why are chefs adopting Instagram and not other social media sites that accommodate photos? “It plays to our strengths,” says Gabrynowicz. “The other social media—Facebook, Twitter—are all kinda fussy. You have to take the time to write something witty about the photo. But Instagram is all about the picture. It’s like—boom—you take your phone out of your pocket, take the picture, and there it is on Instagram.”
Clued-in diners are also feeling Instagram’s power. According to Gabrynowicz, “It has an amazing reach. I personally only have about 280 followers, and Restaurant North has, maybe, 500. But still, you wouldn’t believe how many people come in saying, 'I want that dish that I just saw you post on Instagram.' Tons.”
Yet using Instagram for marketing is a tricky business. Chef Christian Petroni, whose often comical Instagram posts can be as entertaining as a visit to the restaurant, bemoans the marketers and PR machines that hijack Instagram without finesse. “Sometimes, you see these posts and they’re all business. All business. People look at ads all day! Who wants to see that?” In contrast, the Instagram accounts of Petroni’s team—cpthecook, johntnealon, and robkrauss—often depict Fortina as a sort of playroom for restaurant workers. A recent example from johntnealon showed a picture of braciole cooking in a dinged-up pan. It’s accompanied by the words “Braciole being all sexy and whatnot #fortinapizza @cpthecook @robkrauss @checkmeoutimawesome.”
The next time you consider asking a waiter for dinner recommendations, instead, go straight to the source (and pull out your iPhone).