How Instagram is changing the way we eat
Growing up, Sunday evening outings with my dad were limited to a handful of restaurants. This ritual continues even now when I visit him on weekends. Going out is about comfort and it’s non-fuss. The places we frequent are known to be consistent with their food, menu, service, presentation and not surprisingly, have been around for at least a decade.
Cut to me going out with my colleagues, partner or friends. I spend hours reading reviews on social media sites and looking at Instagram feeds to decide. The restaurant of choice is often a new place or then a new menu at an established one. It’s usually about the experience.
Social media is changing and influencing the way we eat and what we eat. It is also changing the way restaurateurs market themselves and present their dishes.
It goes without saying that food conversations dominate my Instagram feed. Often I too add to it. I usually take pictures of my food and spend time fussing over the image quality—adjusting the filters for brightness, sharpness, adding appropriate hashtags to post it online. Even before I have tasted the food, I have endorsed it.
I am not the only one. At Farzi Café, close to 80% of the diners who eat at the restaurant take pictures of their food, says Zorawar Kalra, founder and managing director, Massive Restaurants Pvt. Ltd. Farzi Café was one of the first restaurants to use innovative techniques on traditional Indian food, coming up with dishes like Mist Dahi, RajKachori and sweet and sour pumpkin mash with chutney foam. “If food looks good, you will enjoy it more,” says Kalra who plans all his food around beauty. Instagram is a by-product of beauty, he explains.
On Instagram, some 208 million posts have been tagged with the “food” hashtag since it was founded in 2010. Food lends itself beautifully to smartphone-wielding customers who like to take pictures and share them. Today, for many people, out of home spends is dictated by creating an experience. While shopping can be done online, one is more likely to step out to have fun, which could be eating out or watching a movie. In 2016, for the first time ever, Americans spent more money in restaurants and bars than at grocery stores.
For restaurateurs who are constantly looking at ways to engage with customers, social media is a boon.
At the newly opened Su Casa in Mumbai’s Bandra, tweets from customers using #SuCasa appear live on a large screen. At some restaurants, the chef at the helm is a social media celebrity with a large following. For instance, at Lower Parel, The Bombay Canteen’s executive chef Thomas Zacharias has over 21,000 Instagram followers. Then, there are celebrity food bloggers with hundreds of thousands of followers giving birth to food fads like freak shakes.
Social media has also reduced the costs of marketing. In the food services industry, marketing spends constituted 4-6% of the total revenue for the majority of the companies for financial year 2016, according to India Food Services Report 2016 by the National Restaurant Association of India. “Costs of advertising have come down,” says Kalra, whose spends on traditional media like radio and newspapers are now “opportunistic’.
Yet, there is a flip side to social media—the turnaround time for the tables increase as people fuss over pictures. Also, not all feedback is favourable and there is the constant pressure of remaining relevant to consumers who are on the lookout for new experiences.
For consumers reading social media feeds, there could be a different back story to what you see. Earlier this year, I was at Indian Accent, New Delhi and noticed a group of customers ordering, clicking pictures and talking animatedly as their food arrived. However, most of the food was sent back largely untouched. On chatting with my server, I got to know that the place occasionally attracts tourists who may not be fans of inventive Indian cuisine but are interested in adding the dining experience at a restaurant to their social media feed. Indian Accent is the only restaurant from India featuring among the top 100 restaurants in the world in the 50 Best Restaurants List 2016 published by William Reed Business Media Ltd .
Its New York outpost was the best Indian restaurant and the runner-up best new restaurant across cuisines in the city in the 2017 Zagat guide.
The scene brought to mind a New Yorker cartoon, where a waiter asks a couple, “Is everything OK? You haven’t photographed your food.”
Food no longer is just about satiating our taste buds. Increasingly, it’s about feeding our eyes and social media feeds.
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