by Kady Matsuzaki
Photography by Mae Davis
Once upon a time, the best way to find a great restaurant was through word of mouth. Great food stirred up buzz because people talked about it and recommended it to their friends. While spoken hype is still prevalent, a new type of third-person advertising has emerged.
Apps like Yelp, Snapchat and Facebook have helped restaurants spread brand awareness in a cost-effective manner. However, Instagram, and its “pics or it didn’t happen” ethos is extremely influential when diners pick where to eat.
Instagram has enabled several foods to go viral—an occurrence unique to the age of social media. The rainbow bagel, ramen burger and cronut are all examples of how drastically Instagram and other social media sites can affect demand.
“The milkshakes at Black Tap would not have reached their level of popularity without Instagram,” said Erin Park (SED ’19).
The towering milkshakes are a sugar rush for the stomach, but more importantly, for the eyes. The true novelty of a cotton candy-topped, candy-encrusted, pink milkshake cannot be fully appreciated without a picture. Instagram puts a face to our wildest foodie dreams, whether they be a donut ice cream sandwich or a slice of avocado toast with egg yolk oozing over the plate.
Hearing about delicious, trendy foods is great, but until we see them on our feeds, they can be easy to dismiss. Cake that looks like a raindrop—sounds weird, I’ll pass.
Food-centric Instagram accounts like @infatuation () and @new_fork_city () make ignorance to these foods nearly impossible. Dishes nearly pop out at the viewer with loads of gooey cheese or artfully placed edible flowers on display.
Hungry followers cannot help but stare. Suddenly, we need to try this.
“Whenever anyone our age hears of a new restaurant, before even Yelp, Instagram is the first place we look,” said Park.
A restaurant’s Instagram page works as a visual menu, a sneak peek into what customers can expect when dining.. It is also a promise that our own Instagram pictures will look just as appetizing.
Grace Lei (SAR ’18) says it’s possible that Instagram has a negative effect on why we eat where we do. “Sometimes, I’ll hear that people will want to try somewhere just because it looks good in pictures. Like, the Yelp reviews will be alright, but they’ll go because the pics on Insta are super cute.”
In an interview with Tasting Table, Ken Lo, owner of Ice & Vice in New York City’s Lower East Side, said, “Customers would come to our shop, show us their phones and say, ‘This is what we want—we don’t care what it tastes like; we just want what’s in this picture.’”
They want his towering ice cream cones topped with toasted marshmallows and whole donuts, which have racked up thousands of likes and tens of thousands of followers for Lo’s Instagram, @iceandvice ().
Of course there are restaurants that have both excellent food and artistic plating, but when going out to eat, shouldn’t the taste and quality of cuisine be the priority? In a society driven by aesthetics and the visual aspect of social media, the “artsiness” of a restaurant and its food seem to be taking precedence.
We want food that looks as good as, or better than, it tastes. We seem to now be eating with our eyes first and a quick scroll through hashtags like #foodporn and #eatingforinsta on Instagram proves a new kind of feast is emerging.