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How plating for Instagram can help your restaurant’s bottom line

If you’re not on Instagram, your foodservice business could be missing out on a critical audience – but using Instagram the correct way is how you can take advantage of the platform.

Consumers under 40 years old are the biggest spenders in the Canadian foodservice industry. In fact, consumers under 30 years old spend 44% of their total food dollar at restaurants. It’s clear that this growing consumer base is of increasing importance to foodservice operators. So, how can food and beverage owners leverage this population and attract Gen Z and millennials to their restaurants? 

Generation Z and millennials are active social media users and they use platforms like Facebook and Instagram to interact with restaurants by leaving reviews, tagging photos, and following restaurant activity. 

Leveraging social media and using the platforms to your advantage can help your business build awareness and drive foot traffic. However, using the platforms, the right way, is key. Delivering meaningful, visually-appealing content to engage and interact with your audience is essential – but a common pitfall for many restaurants on social media.

Understanding how to plate attractive and enticing dishes can help you deliver more appealing Instagram photos that represent your business, encouraging new guests and helping you make a profit! We spoke with Chef Lanny MacLeod of Victor Restaurant in Toronto about plating trends, how to plate for Instagram, and how to take advantage of social media for your restaurant. Here’s tips and tricks from Chef Lanny on how to plate for Instagram. 

Chef Lanny MacLeod of Victor Restaurant in Toronto

#1 Follow Instagram trends for plating 

Colour is one of the biggest trends to take advantage of in your Instagram photos. Using a variety of colours to create striking, high-contrast photos is attractive to potential guests. Chef Lanny also points out that keeping your plate white, loading it up with lots of bold colour creates a juxtaposition that stand out while users are scrolling.

#2 Intent is key 

As Chef Lanny puts it, ‘Plating haphazardly, looks sloppy and the lack of care shows.” Plating with intent is key; it doesn’t matter what the food is, if it’s placed with intent, it tells a cohesive story.  

#3 Match your plate to the food 

When it comes to the actual plate you’re using for a dish, Chef Lanny recommends matching your plate to your food. Your plate and the meal go hand in hand. For instance, for fine dining, Chef Lanny suggests the classic, white rimless plates for a more sophisticated feel. For a less formal dinner, Chef Lanny prefers to plate on a rustic, handmade ceramic plate. 

Set table in a restaurant with well-presented food

#4 Plate sustainably 

Sustainable eating is of increasing concern to millennials and Gen Z. Gen-Zers and millennials prefer to do business with companies that prioritize environmental stewardship and social responsibility (2). By showcasing your sustainable efforts via Instagram photos, you are sending a message to and building goodwill with your customers. 

To ensure that your business is plating dishes sustainably, Chef Lanny encourages a ‘use everything mentality’. Avoid consuming just a portion of an ingredient and discarding the rest. Use the leaves or tops of a veg as garnish. It’s also important to keep garnish local and in season. Plating with asparagus tips in winter isn’t a smart and sustainable move; neither is plating with ingredients that aren’t native to the local area. 

With our chilly and snowy Canadian winters, we don’t have access to many fruits and vegetables all year round. During winter, utilizing fruits or veg that are imported into Canada isn’t a sustainable option. To avoid this, Chef Lanny recommends garnishing with the pickled ingredients that were picked in summer. Or, infusing oils and salts and using these in cocktails as garnish. 

#5 Keep it simple 

According to Chef Lanny, overdoing it is one of the biggest mistakes when it comes to plating. Plating should aim to keep it simple and letting the ingredients shine and speak for themselves. “If an ingredient is technically well-prepared and beautiful, that is all you need,” says Chef Lanny. When it comes down to it, a good rule of thumb to follow is that if it doesn’t add flavour to the dish, then don’t put it on the plate.

#6 Stand-out dishes 

One of the common trends in plating, specifically as it pertains to Instagram, is having one stand-out dish on the menu that attracts customer attention. These impressive (sometimes outrageous) dishes are often desserts and very Instagram-friendly – with kitschy and unique garnishes or structures. Having this IG-friendly dish on a menu brings in foot traffic. And while guests come in to order this dish, they also order other dishes on the menu.

Victor Restaurant in Toronto's Instagram-friendly interior

#7 Expand to Instagram-friendly interiors 

Highlighting your dishes and menu on Instagram in a captivating way can help to bring new guests in. However, expanding your branded aesthetic to the restaurant interiors can do the same. An attractive ‘focus wall’ in interesting colours or patterns encourages guests to take selfies and share them on social media, tagging your restaurant – spreading awareness for your business. 

#8 What chefs want, may not be what customers want 

When it comes to what makes a “good” dish, chefs focus first on flavour profiles first whereas most customers are first enticed by aesthetics. Chef Lanny identifies that chefs may find the skill, technicality and construction of what is on the plate intriguing, whereas consumers really just aim to see delicious, tasty, abundant and colourful foods – less technical, but more inviting. 

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