Phone and laptop on a table

When the Hi-Lo Diner was designing its newest Minneapolis location, the original plan was to serve their confections on a classic 1960s style brown plate with a green rim, explains the Star Tribune. However, the idea was let go and traded in for an all white plate instead.

Why? Marketing on Instagram.

“We realized it wasn’t going to look good on people’s Instagram posts,” Mike Smith, one of the spot’s co-owners, told the Strib.

Instagram has infiltrated our lives and made things more photogenic, more ‘grammable. With more than 40 million photos uploaded daily and 55% of 18-29-year-olds signed up, one little photography app has changed the restaurant scene (and it’s restaurant marketing strategies) in a few big ways.

Designer Dishes

It turns out that Smith’s notion of the importance of the Instagram-ability of his dishes was spot on. A 24-year-old named Rosie tells the Independent that “…knowing what a dish looks like is really important when deciding what to order.” She continues to say that she always goes on Instagram first to make her decision.

using instagram in a restaurant

Not only do millennials use Instagram to decide what to order, they use food photos to decide where to eat in the first place. “Ten years ago, looking for a restaurant meant finding the most recent Zagat edition we had in my parents’ car and scouring the short, pithy reviews for something that looked acceptable. Now, it’s a process that generally takes longer than the actual meal. First, something on Instagram catches my eye. If there’s a geotag on the photo, awesome. Of not, I’ll find it,” explains Diana Eisenberg on

Thoughtful Decor

As laid out in Mic, one restaurateur in Paris went so far as to bring tables from Burgundy, lighting fixtures from Germany, and decorative clay plates from Peru into adorning his restaurant. While that might seem extreme, in our current Instagram-fuelled climate, the photogenic necessity goes beyond the food and into every design aspect of a restaurant.

I’m a prime example. I was recently out to dinner with friends when I stepped away to go to the bathroom and entered a designer’s paradise. There were mosaic sinks, velvet curtains, exposed brick, and perfectly dim lighting. I immediately returned to my table so I could photograph and Instagram my newly found surroundings—it just had to be done.

And designers have caught on.

In the same article, Christian Schulz, a design director in California, spoke of how he advised a restaurant in the East Miami Hotel to create a series of “Instagram-worthy moments,” by installing things like a massive and intricate light fixture. “This type of well-executed, show-stopping design lends itself to be photographed for social media, and Instagram in particular,” the article notes.

instagram and food photograhy

A New Approach to Marketing

What do all those photos and geotags add up to? Throw in the fact that Millennials dine out more than any previous generation, Instagram has become the newest approach to digital marketing for restaurants.

“Instagram and social media are word-of-mouth marketing for the digital era and can help build a chef’s rep and clientele,” explains Miguel Andrade in Wired. Alternatively, one snap from Instagram superheroes—aka influencers—like Patrick Janelle of @aguynamedpatrick and his almost 500,000 followers can mean a business boon for restaurants.

Insta’ influencers have created another marketing effect as well: partnerships. As bon appetit explains, “foodie influencers like Janelle are often invited and sometimes paid by restaurants, bars, and food and liquor brands to eat (complimentary) juicy burgers or drink crisp cucumber gimlets, and share them with their massive followings on Instagram.”

Between dishes, decor, and marketing, it’s safe to say that Instagram’s influence on the restaurant industry has been practically tectonic.

Instagram has changed the restaurant industry, don't be left behind. Get your strategy in place.

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Cinnamon is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer and journalist who paid a large part of her way through college and graduate school by serving. Her work has been published with outlets like National Geographic, the Washington Post, Pacific Standard, and more. You can read more about her at
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