In the past few weeks the amateur art of food photography has been knocked down and picked back up again. First the New York Times reported that several Brooklyn restaurants are bravely banning table photography as it is obnoxious to chefs and patrons alike. Bans aside, it looks like we’re far from the demise of “foodstagramming” — just a few days ago, online restaurant reservation platform OpenTable announced that they will dish out $10 million to buy food photo based social media app Foodspotting. With the acquisition OpenTable stands to gain 3 million camera-happy foodies, a seemingly brilliant opportunity to collect user-generated content for restaurant clients.
You may be steadfastly anti-restaurant-photography like Brooklyn Fare Chef Moe Issa — and hey, that’s understandable. There’s a time and a place for iPhones and flashes, and perhaps the dinner table isn’t that place. But if you’re willing to embrace the amateur food photographers of the world, along with their visual odes to your food, here are a few pointers on how to make it work for your restaurant.
Your first act as a restaurant on social media can’t be to ask for favors. Start things off by making friends and followers comfortable with the engagement process. Share photos of your own, link to interesting articles about the industry or community, and remember to take the focus off of yourself. The goal here is to be captivating and field a few thoughtful clicks or comments — baby steps toward the larger goal of collecting user-generated content.
Yusho friends, if you’re dining with us tonight:show us your pictures!
— Yusho (@yushochicago) February 15, 2013
When executed correctly, contests work exceptionally well in the online space. Set up a competition that invites patrons to publicly submit images online and award a prize (gift card, a seat at the chefs table) to the best photo. Your page will be populated with user-generated content, and when users post the photos, the image and messaging will also be pushed out to their own social connections. It’s a great opportunity to organically spread enthusiasm for your food.
Give exclusive access
The New York Times’ “Restaurants Turn Camera Shy” tells the story of David Bouley, a New York City chef who circumvents the risk of sloppy-looking photos by inviting photographers into the kitchen for an exclusive photo opportunity. When his staff spots diners shooting their food, they politely approach the photographer, saying “that shot will look so much better on the marble table in our kitchen.” The photographer gets a VIP pass, the chef’s food looks fresh and immaculate, and fellow patrons don’t have to put up with the annoyance of cameras and phones at the table. It’s a win for everyone — that is, if you’re willing to let outsiders into your kitchen.
What do you think? Should we as food marketers go out of our way encourage food photography, or head in the direction of outright bans?