In a time when online restaurant orders have officially surpassed call-in orders, it’s not enough to just offer an online menu. Sitting at home on the couch, guests want to be able to almost taste the dishes, to feel the ambiance and vibe of the restaurant, before making their final selection. Quality online ordering menu photography is essential.
“Imagine ordering from Amazon with no pictures,” says Kenn Pluard, owner of Kenji’s Ramen & Grill in Vancouver, Washington, who saw a 10-percent increase in sales after implementing online ordering. “Having the actual photo will speak wonders and give the customer an idea of the food quality.”
Pluard notes that even showcasing canned beverages, with the logos visible and recognizable, can help drive sales.
“Having a presentable photo of the actual food,” he says, “can give the customer an idea of the value and image of the restaurant.”
He even takes his strategy a step further, using his Upserve online ordering platform to sell branded restaurant merchandise.
“Having an online store with photos is something I am very excited about,” he says. “In addition to the food items, I always wanted to sell other items relating to our restaurant, like shirts, hats, gift items and gift cards. This can open up a lot of opportunities to the small business who cannot afford a high-end website, and the fact that it is real-time is hugely beneficial.”
Whether you’re just getting your online ordering up and running, or you’re now realizing it might be time for an update, here are some tips to help showcase your dishes in their best light.
Hire A Professional Photographer
While there are costs associated with outsourcing your images, restaurant industry veterans like Pluard bank on that return on investment.
“A professional comes with the right equipment and the expertise to capture the subject in a way that conveys ambiance and entices customers,” Plevrites says.
William Haynes is a photographer who has worked with many restaurants to create images for menus, social media and apps.
“Hiring a professional photographer can save tons of time, and money if you keep having to make dishes over again. There are many of us who have studied and are trained to take the best images and can often do so much faster,” he says, noting however, “That shouldn’t stop restaurant owners from taking some control, as menus might change more often than they want to do full shoots.”
In that case, follow the steps below to achieve the best results.
Focus on Lighting
Proper lighting is key, says Pluard, who also strives for consistency among his menu images.
“All shots should be shot at the same angle and lighting for a consistent look,” he says. “Using a lightbox may be helpful if your restaurant is dark.”
Bill Roberts, founder of vlogging resource website VloggerGear, agrees that lighting is key.
“One of the best ways to capture great menu photos for a restaurant is to have great lighting,” he says. “This could be in the form of umbrella or LED light panels, which provide an almost shadowless light, which makes the food stand out. When taking photos with natural or overhead lights, the lighting can be inconsistent throughout the menu and give sub-par results.”
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But don’t overlook the importance of (free) natural light streaming through your restaurant’s windows.
Haynes notes that natural light can be a restaurant’s best friend.
“You absolutely must have good lighting to really see the food. While a portable studio light kit allows for complete control, a bright, open window can do wonders,” Haynes says. “I also recommend filling in the shadows. This can easily be done by using a piece of white poster or project board that bounces the sunlight back to the food when placed opposite the window.”
He also shares challenges associated with restaurants in general.
“Many restaurants are dark or have lighting with a yellow tint,” Haynes says. “Watch the color of the light as well to avoid making the food look different. Daylight is often best.”
“You absolutely must have good lighting to really see the food. While a portable studio light kit allows for complete control, a bright, open window can do wonders.” -William Haynes
Compose the Shot
Composition is all about how the food is framed within the picture, says Haynes, noting that a 45-degree angle looking down on the dish often works well, especially if you have access to a tripod.
When used appropriately, props can help give customers an accurate picture of what they should expect, Haynes says.
“One thing customers hate is to see a big picture of a dish only to find that, in real life, it’s much smaller. When appropriate, add little things that help show the relative size of the dish: salt and pepper shakers, a side of sauce, chopsticks, a fork, etcetera,” he says.
And don’t overlook the importance of backgrounds.
“Many restaurant tables are glossy and will reflect light in a harsh way. You may have to reposition the camera closer to the main light source,” he says. “It might also be worth creating or using something under the dish, like a placemat. I stay away from silver and metallic since it is often the most reflective.”
Make Dishes Appetizing
It may seem like a no-brainer, but make sure you’re producing drool-worthy images that will whet the appetite of any customer.
At I Heart Mac and Cheese, images are composed to make food the most appetizing.
“We take the images that really show what’s in the item,” says CEO and chairman Stephen Giordanella. “For example, instead of showing a grilled cheese, we open up the grilled cheese, show some of what’s inside falling out, and get shots of cheese being poured on top of it. Showing the image as a final product is beautiful, but showing the image as it’s being created is both creative and more interesting to see.”
Haynes suggests shooting the food right as it’s plated, as it would be served to guests. This way, hot food has natural steam, and cold desserts are still holding up.
“Position the food so it looks its best,” Haynes says. “This might mean opening the sandwich up a little or unwrapping a roll so we can see what’s inside. Stack things, move it around, and try different sides of the food to see what looks best.”