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Long gone are the days of shaming guests for using their phones at the table. Now some restaurants even provide the selfie stick.

When it comes to Instagram, not every photo makes the cut. So shouldn’t you make sure your restaurant decor is optimized for social media engagement? Because even if it’s all the same trendy food, some restaurants make the cut while others don’t.

But why should you care?

It turns out that 30 percent of 18-to-35-year-olds would avoid a restaurant if they didn’t like their Instagram presence. That can have a big impact on your bottom line. While this might inspire you to start working on your personal Instagram, the dinner train shouldn’t stop there. You should be working on getting your guests to be the ones taking and sharing the photos because no photo you take will ever be as big an endorsement as someone choosing to post about your place on their own.

You know what goes into getting that perfect food shotit’s a lot of work! It involves great lighting, a worthy subject, and the right angles. At the end of the day, you have to make sure a follower knows that amazing dish is from your restaurant.

food, eating, technology, culinary and people concept - woman hands with smartphone photographing gazpacho soup at restaurant

So it’s your job to give them the tools.  Make sure your restaurant is decorated and prepared for optimal social media engagements because if they don’t get the likes, they won’t like you. Want to get started on optimizing your restaurant’s design? The experts weigh in below.


Arguably the most important aspect of optimizing your restaurant for social media is installing the right lighting. How many times have you seen what could be a great food photograph but it’s too dark and grainy? (Martha Stewart, we’re looking at you.) No matter how great the angle or the dish, your mood lighting is ruining their photos. When you design your restaurant, try for as much natural light as possible. If that’s not possible, make sure their artificial light you do have works well for photos.


Former restaurateur Chris Hill, who currently works as a restaurant consultant, stresses the importance of appropriate lighting. “The best way to set up a restaurant for social media engagement, in terms of design, is to be conscious of the lighting,” he says. “If you have stellar lighting, you’re going to be able to take better picturesof your food, of your cocktails, of each otherand are much more likely to share on social media.”

Having fun reasons to post

Your lighting might be great, but if there is nothing that inspires your guests to whip out their phones, that meal will go unphotographed. Make sure your dishes look compelling, but the photos don’t stop there. Floors often inspire photographs, and if you have your name somehow incorporated in your design, even better! A beautiful bar with funky bottles always prompts a shot, as well as colorful wall art and beautiful tables.

large image of checkered marble floor going off into the distance

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At a country-style restaurant and whiskey bar Dalton & Wade in Minneapolis, owner Paul Abdo knew that his guests would be looking for something unique and photogenic, so he commissioned the painting of a mural. “People look for that standout feature that they can post on Instagram these days,” he says, explaining why he focused so much on social media during the design phase. “We commissioned a local artist to recreate this paint by numbers mural exactly for that reason. It pops, it’s playful and it gets people talking.”

Beer cans and cool background for dalton and wade restaurant
Image by The Restaurant Project for Dalton and Wade

Abdo says it’s important to have a presence within the social media world. “People look for that ‘Instagrammable’ factor that makes you stand out, and makes them want to photograph it,” he says. “As a restaurant owner, I am constantly trend-spotting and noticing what people photograph when they are out at restaurants, and it’s no longer just the food. We’ve tried to create a space that has several of these features, from a bar with over 200 whiskeys to an old-fashioned jukebox and, of course, the mural. We’ve opened just a week ago and have seen traction on social media boost our followers up to nearly 1,000 in a week.”

Give them a hand, or at least a selfie stick

With a great restaurant comes great responsibility. While lighting and a unique design might be enough for some restaurants to be satisfied with their attempt at bettering their social media skills, that’s not the end of the road. Selfie sticks can help with those perfect flat lays you see of so many brunches, and an extra wide lens can help make the whole plate of tacos fit in the frame without having to stand on a chair. Even extra lights are always welcome, especially on a rainy day.

Bake Dessert Party Cake Brunch Cafe Cookie Concept

Sounds fantastical? It may be to your average restaurant but a New York comfort food spot Dirty Bones in London is ahead of the curve with capitalizing on their guests’ desire to take great food photos. Since they started lending out their Instagram kits—complete with selfie sticks, extra lighting, a wide lens and a charger—with their meals, there has been an uptick in people tagging their location on the site. The restaurant can almost guarantee better photos populating that space, making it even more desirable for future guests when they see the images online.

Get your name in their mouth…literally

Eliminate the chance that your guest spells your name wrong in his or her post, or skips tagging your spot entirely, by giving them a reason to share a photo of your name.

Hill recommends making your menu unique, so your guests are inclined to take a photo of it. Ask ahead of time if your guests are celebrating something special and personalize their menu accordingly. A personalized “Happy Birthday” message will likely be shared across social media and by word-of-mouth. Other restaurants have even gone to such extremes as branding their buns or ice cubes with their name, sparking many a photo-worthy moment.

pump in hollywood
Photo from Pump

Pump in West Hollywood, California, also takes a direct approach by having a branded flower wall that they ask their guests to pose with, specifically so they’ll share it on social media. As Lisa Vanderpump has said, “It’s not just a dining experience, it’s a destination.”

At the end of the day, your decor should reflect who you are as a restaurant, both your vibe and your spirit. Let it shine!

Does your restaurant design have something specifically in place to get some social media love? Join the conversation here! 

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Megan is always adventuring. Whether it is simply wandering around Newport, RI or venturing off across the world, she is constantly looking for a new travel destination. While she may not be able to tell you the exact cities she has visited, you can expect a play by play of everything she ate.
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