In the age of Instagram, your restaurant design matters. Allison Cooke is the director of hospitality design at the architecture and design firm CORE, where she’s worked with clients like the Garces Group Jose Andres’ Think Food Group. Here, she shares tips for creating Instagram-friendly restaurant spaces.
Instagram, Instagram, everywhere! It — along with other social media platforms — can be a powerful promotional tool for restaurants. Nothing is better than your customers becoming your cheerleaders. Not only is it a more authentic, grassroots way of promoting yourself, but it also gives you raw third-party validation that future customers can see for themselves.
Diners love to photograph their meals, their surroundings, and of course themselves, and to post images for all their followers to see. So how can you as a Food & Beverage owner benefit from today’s selfie-loving customers? Start with an Instagram-friendly space!
Here are six pointers to make sure you aren’t missing out on critical photo ops:
Nothing is worse than bad lighting! Remember, natural and amber-colored light is ideal, while fluorescent light will make even the hottest patrons look haggard. Since daylight is not always available, be sure that downlighting is kept to a minimum to avoid those under-eye shadows. Light sources should be concealed and indirect to avoid lens flare. And why not let your decorative light fixtures become something that people love to photograph? Though simple, the bucket lights at Taylor Gourmet are probably THE most Instagrammed light fixtures in DC.
No one wants a photo in front of a blank wall, but that doesn’t mean every corner has to be plastered with design elements. A couple of playful features are sometimes all it takes to create a compelling stage set.
Diners not inclined towards social media should be allowed to enjoy their meal without accidentally photobombing a bachelorette party selfie, so be mindful of where high-attention features are placed in the restaurant. Near the bar or entry? Great. In the middle of the dining room or right outside the private dining room? Not so much. Two memorable elements I love are the cactus sofa at barmini by Jose Andres in DC, and the VW bug at Distrito in Philly. Features should get guests buzzing and entice new ones to come see it for themselves.
If you are a retail owner, bakery, or market, let the product speak for itself. Everything on display should be organized, clean, and graphically compelling in its packaging. Think of your product the way Warhol considered a stack of Campbell’s soup cans, and it can become one of the design elements. The bottles and colors of the DC fresh-pressed juice company JRINK have become their brand icon, and subsequently they have a HUGE Instagram following. District Doughnut puts their beautiful creations front and center when you walk through the door, and it garners them loads of Instagram attention.
Not only does your signage mark the guest’s first impression, it can also become your social media icon. From exterior signage to the logo application on a menu, each place the restaurant’s name is used can be a photo opp. Dirty French in New York, Easy Tiger in Austin, and Pearl Dive Oyster Palace in DC all have identifiable signage that reads well in photos and conveys the spirit of the experience.
Trust me, I’m focused on the food when I’m at a restaurant, but I’m also a designer — so every detail matters to me. Nothing is more disappointing than when the space doesn’t support the F&B experience. Be mindful of how your tabletop and finish materials showcase the reason people are there to begin with – the food.
Del Campo in DC marries the grilled South American fare with its smoky finish palette. Chef Amy Brandwein of Centrolina DC even toted her restaurant finishes to NYC to consult with the pottery artist that created her custom pasta dishes. And who doesn’t love the carvinalesque bar top at BlackJack DC as the backdrop to your Sazerac? Help those amateur food photographers out!
Most importantly, when designing an “Instagrammable” space, like your mother always told you, just be yourself! I love working with chefs and owners whose concepts are innovative, and truly THEIRS. Guests are on a constant search to discover and devour new restaurants that their friends haven’t seen yet. And when they find that genuinely unique spot, they are sure to share it with everyone so they can claim the bragging rights.
Don’t try to create novelty for novelty’s sake. People can see through a concept if it feels insincere. Impart some of yourself in the space so guests can connect with you, whether it’s actually YOU in an open kitchen or a tangible piece of your story.
— written by Allison Cooke for industree