Consumers are passionate about exceptional dining experiences. They’re also passionate about social media, so it was only a matter of time before they transformed these two passions into “foodstagramming”—a trend in which restaurant diners Instagram or TwitPic images of their favorite restaurant dishes.
A recent article in The New York Times pointed out that not all restaurant owners are keen on the idea of patrons instantly disseminating culinary images to scores of online followers. In fact, some restaurant owners have opted to banned foodstagramming and instruct patrons that in-restaurant photography simply isn’t permitted.
So what’s really going on here? Should your restaurant ban foodstagramming, or should you embrace it as a resource for extending the value of the dining experience you’ve worked so hard to create?
The Case Against Food Photos and Social Sharing
Retailers spend time and resources trying to persuade guests to share product images with their online networks. But the sharing of customer-generated images is worrisome to the owners and managers of fine dining establishments and upscale eateries.
The argument against foodstagramming is that it is a breach of social etiquette and a threat to the quality of the experience for other diners. When diners light up the restaurant with flash photography or stand on chairs to get the perfect shot, it undoubtedly detracts from other guests’ dining experiences.
The practice is also earning questions from the dietary community: a Canadian researcher who spoke recently in Vancouver said that obsessive food photography could be a signal of a larger dieting problem.
"I see clients for whom food has become problematic, and they struggle to go out and not have food be the key element of all social interaction: what they eat, when they ate, when they are going to eat again," said Dr. Valerie Taylor, chief of psychiatry at Women's College Hospital at the University of Toronto in a recent interview with The Huffington Post.
With customers obsessively snapping and posting food pics, some restaurants are concerned that a single poorly plated dish could go viral and develop greater significance than it deserves in the overall context of a typical experience at their restaurant.
Benefits of Allowing Foodstagramming
Although the possibility of the occasional negative mention or photo is real, there can also be benefits of patrons sharing photos and comments about their dining experiences.
In fact, according to the New York Times article, one New York City chef opts to invite guests back into the kitchen where the dish can be photographed it the best light, on the marble counter as soon as it comes out.
Consistency: If nothing else, the awareness that guests might share photos of their dishes with large social networks is a motivation to every staff member to deliver consistently high quality guest experiences. From the dishes that leave the back of the house to the level of service diners receive from the front of the house, your restaurant’s guest experience needs to be perfect every single time—even if the restaurant has multiple sites. To improve the consistency of the guest experience, consider implementing technologies that enable employees and managers to share insights and deliver the same great experience across the entire brand.
Engagement: When guests share photos and comments about their food, they are essentially offering feedback about their brand experience. Rather than stifling guest-generated feedback, harness and use it to improve the guest experience. You can extend the value of your guests’ willingness to offer feedback even further through the use of guest surveys and other feedback mechanisms.
Advocacy: Robust brand advocacy is a byproduct of exceptional guest experiences. Guests who make the effort to share photographs of their meals have the potential to become passionate advocates. Amplify their messages by leveraging technologies that embed real-time advocacy feeds on your restaurant’s homepage or Facebook page.
Trust: Consumers trust guest-generated messages more than they trust messages that have been created by the brand. Although the occasional negative social mention is unavoidable, the goodwill your restaurant generates by allowing foodstagramming is well worth the risk. With the help of social media monitoring tools, you can address negative mentions at the individual level and convert dissatisfied guests into committed brand advocates.
Before making the decison to ban foodstagramming, a restaurant should honestly consider its motives for curtailing the practice of foodstagramming in their establishments. Unlike brand-generated messages, the restaurant has no control over the images and messaging that guests distribute to their social networks. If even a single, inferior plate comes out of the kitchen, the restaurant runs the risk of instantly generating negative online mentions about the brand experience.
A Case Study in Favor of Social Engagement
Smashburger implemented GoRecommend, Empathica’s social media advocacy application, and is using the tool to engage brand advocates who share positive word-of-mouth about their Smashburger experiences via social networks, including Instagram and other photo-sharing sites.
So far, these applications have delivered several measurable outcomes for the brand. During the initial rollout period, the Empathica Local solution delivered a 5.5 percent increase in guest satisfaction scores compared to a one percent improvement at control locations. Smashburger pilot locations achieved an eight percent improvement in focus areas within the first two months of using the solution. The GoRecommend application has helped Smashburger generate upwards of 12,000 social media recommendations, resulting in more than two million impressions on friends’ and followers’ social media newsfeeds.