A Picture is Worth a Thousand Likes

How visually appealing and indulgent menu items can help drive social awareness of an operation.

Being social means being visual, especially in foodservice. Operators say the right photos can influence consumers’ decisions regarding where to eat, what to order and how to tell their friends about the great places they visited. A strong social media strategy can help a brand stand out in the crowded foodservice universe, and a key part of the strategy is having the right photos. That includes photos operators post on their own websites and social media, and also photos that consumers share with each other.

Here are some examples of how operators have used visually appealing menu items to drive awareness of their restaurant on social media.

Scotty’s Brewhouse, Big Island Hawaiian Burger
Scotty’s Brewhouse, Big Island Hawaiian Burger

Timing is everything

Scotty’s Brewhouse, with 13 locations in Indiana and Florida, promotes a Burger of the Month. For November, the holiday specific item was the Loosen Your Belt Burger, which featured a ground turkey patty, Swiss cheese, pan-fried cornbread stuffing cake and turkey gravy. In June it was the Big Island Hawaiian Burger, which featured signature ground chuck, pepper jack cheese, grilled pineapple, sliced avocado, chopped cilantro and barbecue sauce. As with every Burger of the Month, the restaurant posted photos of the item on its website, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and other social media, and placed marketing materials on the tabletop.

“You want people to see how great it looks,” says Scotty's former owner Scott Wise. “More people order something based on pictures, so we try to have pictures of items that look good and are also profitable.”

Help them make decisions

Visually appealing photos also can help consumers order onsite. At the fast-casual Roll Play Vietnamese Grill in Vienna, Virginia, space was limited, so the owners installed kiosks for ordering instead of creating a bottleneck at the food prep and ordering area. Patrons can select the ingredients for their custom-made banh mi, bowls, pho and other menu items. “It has worked out very well for us,” says Boaz Lyu, one of the owners. “We expected our customers to be millennials who are familiar with touch screens. They base their entire life around the touch screen of a phone or tablet.”

Using high-quality photos not only helps speed up the throughput but it also can help boost sales. “We always try to take the best picture,” Lyu says. “We can advertise things on the kiosk directly because the visual cues you get when you order is the first thing people react to.”

The photos are also on the Roll Play website and social media, and customers can win free meals by posting items on social media.

Roll Play Vietnamese Grill

Roll Play Vietnamese Grill

Show off what’s new

Operators also use social media to promote a new menu item. The Milton, Massachusetts-based Not Your Average Joe’s posted a photo of their Harvest Mac-N-Cheese on Facebook and encouraged consumers to try the dish and submit comments about it for a chance to win a free meal. The effort was a success because it helped the 26-unit chain connect with guests and fostered engagement with them, says chief marketing officer Robert Gotti.

Not Your Average Joe's, Harvest Mac-N-Cheese

Not Your Average Joe's, Harvest Mac-N-Cheese

“The business of food today is incredibly visual as consumers are constantly sharing the latest food trends and culinary innovations via images and posts across social media,” Gotti says. “Sharing enticing, mouth-watering photos of our dishes on social media allows our guests to see first-hand the innovations going on in our kitchens, which helps propel traffic and encourage trial among prospective guests as well.”

Be bold

The Firenza, Firenza’s signature pizza
The Firenza, Firenza’s signature pizza
Menu items have to be not only visually appealing and indulgent, but they have to be bold and creative as well. “When we post different and unique toppings and different pizzas, the amount of social engagement goes up,” says Dave Baer, president of Firenza Pizza, which has three locations in Virginia and one in California. “If we put up a photo of pizza with white sauce and red tomatoes and asparagus, that will get shared more than a photo of a pepperoni pizza.”

Getting consumers to share photos of menu items is a good way to spread awareness of an establishment, especially when opening a location in a new market. “Having those validators telling friends and neighbors and peers, ‘Hey, look at this amazing pizza I tried,’ is like word of mouth multiplied a thousand times,” Baer says. He adds that it is easy to measure results on Facebook and Snapchat, such as how many times a photo is shared. “With print advertising people would say wait two weeks for results, but social media is more immediate. If we don’t get a response in five days, it’s kind of already gone, and people have moved on to a hundred other pictures and events.”


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