Click-happy patrons drive eateries to sharpen focus on visual appeal
TORONTO — Chefs are becoming camera-conscious when it comes to dreaming up new menu items.
Culinary creatives prioritizing the photo-worthiness of their dishes made the top trend in a list of restaurant strategies for 2015 in a report from Chicagobased food research and consulting firm Technomic Inc.
Earls, The Keg Steakhouse and Applebees are among those jumping on the Instagram-hungry — or merely hungry — millennial generation.
“There has always been an importance placed on the visual appeal of food on a plate from a culinary perspective, particularly in fine dining,” says Jackie Dulen Rodriguez, senior manager at the firm, who notes chefs at an increasing number of restaurants are presenting food with Instagram, Twitter and other social media sites in mind.
“From a culinary perspective, the phrase ‘ You eat with your eyes first’ predates smartphones by many decades. But the rise of smartphones, selfies, and customers photographing their meals has really elevated and focused the spotlight on how important that is. A lot of restaurants are recognizing that. The younger generation lives digitally. They don’t want to eat a meal if they are not going to take a picture of it.”
Lest anyone think that such matters are trivial, consider the outrage that greeted lifestyle maven Martha Stewart last November when she tweeted photos of her homemade meal: an iceberg wedge salad with dressing and onion soup with baguette croutons.
The lighting was flat, and the dishes looked like many of the snaps people take on their smartphones.
Perhaps thinking of the sumptuous photography in her cookbooks, fans thought her Twitter account had been hacked.
“The Martha Stewart example really illustrates that restaurants are really vulnerable to the person who is taking the picture,” said Dulen Rodriguez.
The trend arrives as casual and family dining chains such as Swiss Chalet and White Spot are feeling continued pressure from the incursion of so-called “fast casual” chains such as Chipotle and Panera Bread.
Full- service dining chains have slipped to 47 per cent of the $50 billion in annual restaurant sales in Canada from 48.5 per cent five years ago, according to Toronto market researcher NPD Group, while quick-service restaurant chains, which include the growing fastcasual group as well as Tim Hortons and fast-food players, account for 53 per cent, up from 51.5 per cent five years ago.
Many restaurant chains are choosing to capitalize on the trend, viewing gussiedup dishes as a form of crowdsourced marketing.
Some chains are encouraging their guests to post photos on social media as marketing tool, and often loop these into their Facebook and Twitter feeds, Dulen Rodriguez said, citing Vancouver-based Earls Restaurants Ltd., which recently encouraged its blog readers to take a better picture of their food than Earls’ could on social media, suggesting a Twitter hashtag of #foodporn.
Other trends cited in Technomic’s 2015 report: offering smaller plates and flexible portion sizes to health-conscious consumers; the rise of alternative food service formats; the spread of non-alcoholic drinks such as handcrafted sodas and pressed juices; and an ongoing drive toward healthier options.