How to Make Your Restaurant More Instagrammable

Set the stage right and you'll encourage your customers to snap stunning photos for social media.
Promote your restaurant on Instagram with pictures like these extravagant milkshakes from Black Tap, a craft burgers and beer restaurant in New York. (Photo: blacktapnyc/Instagram)

You know that posting eye-popping photos of your most mouthwatering fare on Instagram drives business. But when your customers snap and post their own photos, it’s even better.

Black Tap, a craft burgers and beer restaurant in New York, scored big when it posted pics of its towering $15 milkshakes. Traffic exploded both online and at the restaurant. Many customers waited in line just so they could take their own photo.

“Within 72 hours of posting the milkshake photo, lines starting forming around the restaurant,” said chef and owner Joe Isidori. Soon Black Tap had more than 200,000 followers on Instagram, and photos of its milkshakes were being shared around the world. Three-hour waits are now the norm at the restaurant.

While Isidori admits he “had no game plan,” restaurant owners can embrace simple strategies to increase their chances of going viral on Instagram.

Offer one must-photograph item


“All restaurants should have that one item their audience cannot resist.” – Efrain Bueres (Photo: Efrain Bueres)

Creating an extravagant dish or drink will drive customers to shoot and share photos of their experience.

“Over-the-top creations get an automatic like on a photo,” said Efrain Bueres, social media manager at Carma PR who helps restaurant clients grow online. “All restaurants should have that one item their audience cannot resist.”

Play with color, scale, geometry and surprising garnishes until the visuals are stunning (and make sure it tastes great).

“Create a novelty that’s suitable to your brand,” said Isidori. “Our milkshakes are an assault on all your senses, but we’re just a simple, honest burger restaurant having fun.”

Experiment with heights and hues. “Tall burgers and desserts make great photos,” said Jen Barnett, marketing consultant with Redhawk Consulting and a former restaurateur. “Instagrammers like healthy dishes to be bright and colorful, and decadent dishes to be bold and brash.”

Have camera-friendly lighting

Soft lighting at a restaurant may set a pleasant ambience, but it won’t allow your food to pop in a photo. Fortunately, there is a clever way to provide bright, camera-friendly lighting without compromising your atmosphere.


Pride suggests having low-level downlighting pendants above each table. (Photo: Angus Cameron Pride)

“My suggestion would be to have low-level downlighting pendants above each table,” said Angus Cameron Pride, a restaurant consultant with more than 13 years in the hospitality industry. “Always go for a warm white over a cold white when specifying your lighting.”

When shooting your own photos, use natural lighting to create vibrant colors and plenty of contrast.

Use simple plating, eclectic table settings

Customers will want to document every aspect of the experience if there are good photo opportunities. Bueres has found that photos of food plated on solid backgrounds without distracting patterns succeed on social media.

“Solid colors help the food stand out. If you are trying to capture a close-up of a plate, the less the better so that the food can be the star,” he said.

The table setting, on the other hand, can be eclectic and teeming with decorative items. Make it look like a party and your diners will want to take photos.

Brand your backgrounds


“Food porn is always popular on Instagram, but the best way to make your posts shareable and get patrons to post is to give them backdrops that identify your restaurant.” – Jen Barnett (Photo: Jen Barnett)

Make it easy for an Instagram user who sees photos of your food to find out where it came from.

“Food porn is always popular on Instagram, but the best way to make your posts shareable and get patrons to post is to give them backdrops that identify your restaurant,” said Barnett.

Brand elements of your restaurant that are likely to be photographed. “If you have a gorgeous logo, paint it large on a wall in the business and print it on your plates,” she said. Diners may even shoot selfies under a branded wall if it’s beautiful.

Incentivize customers

Attractive plates and good lighting will encourage customers to take photos, but getting them to share the images requires other incentives.

“Restaurants can encourage customers to post by giving them an incentive either by reposting them on their own page or giving them the opportunity to win a prize,” said Bueres.

For a bigger impact, consider an influencer marketing campaign, which usually involves teaming up with a popular social media figure to build buzz about the restaurant, said Bueres.

Do a social media test run

After developing a signature dish, tweaking your lighting and branding the environment, it’s time to see how diners will react. Leora Lanz, a professor at Boston University’s School of Hospitality Administration, suggests doing an Instagram test run.

“Have a group of friends and even strangers go through your restaurant and take pictures,” she said. “Chefs and owners should have their eyes wide open at what they’re photographing.”

Once you know what appeals to people, train your host and servers to point out those elements so diners won’t miss the best photo ops at your restaurant.

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