The milkshakes at Melbourne's Naughty Boy cafe are photographed so often the owners keep a selfie-stick behind the counter. They offer it to customers struggling to take photos of themselves drinking milkshakes piled high with cake, caramel and fairy floss – the cafe's version of a freakshake.
Business had doubled since the $12 drinks were introduced six weeks ago and "the whole cafe is full of people taking photos," according to business owner Ashley De'Hartman. He sells up to 150 shakes a day and plans to release a $50 luxury shake in coming months. He has called them "Instashakes", because posting pictures on Instagram and getting 'likes' is part of the drinkers' experience.
The freakshake phenomenon started earlier this year when Canberra-based cafe Patissez first posted photos of over-filled milkshakes oozing chocolate, pretzels, peanut butter and caramel. The photo quickly spread around the internet, reaping the kind of exposure that would normally cost millions of dollars.
Patissez remains the home of 'freakshakes' (and is trade-marking the name ahead of expansion) with crowds lining up outside the Manuka business for hours, seven days a week. People are actually going out of their way to visit Canberra just to get a photo of themselves drinking a freakshake.
And now these drinks are spreading to Melbourne. Because regardless of how they taste (and how many calories they contain), they photograph well. And if something is 'Instagrammable' it provides tons of free advertising.
Owner of Johnny Pump cafe in Essendon, Peter Galt, says he has never seen someone drink one of his dessert-shakes without first taking a photograph. He loads the shakes up with white-chocolate cheesecake, cookies, banana bread and lemon tarts.
The impact of these wow-factor drinks on his cafe's popularity is obvious. When he bought the business in July this year it had 120 followers on social media. He introduced the dessert shakes in early August and now has "just under 9000" followers on Facebook and Instagram.
Food historian Colin Bannerman said chefs creating freakshakes – and the people buying them – are primarily influenced by social media.
"People are competing and we are moving away from an emphasis on how good the food is to self-exhibition. It is exactly parallel to the phenomenon of some young man standing on the top of a steeple and hanging on with one hand to take a photo of himself with the other," Dr Bannerman said.
"People are becoming ever and ever wilder in trying to out-do each other and grab the attention of their friends and the public in the hope that their freakshakes might go viral."
He likens the freakshake to chocolate soup. People enjoy it because they like to see "how rich they can take it".
Meanwhile a photographer inspired by freakshakes has imagined and created the most extreme milkshakes she could, creating photos of whole roast chickens and hamburgers stuffed on top of a milkshake.
"Milkshake flavours are irrelevant now, the duty falls upon whatever lies on top. May God have mercy on us all," artist Alana Dimou wrote on her blog.
And one woman has been so beguiled by the constant photos of freakshakes on her social media feed that she has created a low-fat and low-sugar version by replacing chocolate, cream, and ice-cream with nut spreads, soy ice-cream, and coconut cream. Kate Cook calculates a real freakshake contains at least 1500 calories – nearly the full daily calorie intake recommended for a female adult – while her version contains 553 calories, about the same as a McDonald's Quarter Pounder.
"I would have rather had a huge delicious dinner instead. I love dessert but most desserts I will enjoy are anywhere between 300 to 500 calories. 1500 for just a drink was just too crazy," Cook says.
While crazy milkshakes might be spreading through Melbourne, extreme food is not new. One only needs to look to America, where bars have been creating ever more and more ridiculous bloody marys for years. One comes topped with hamburgers, bacon, shrimp, onion rings and a cinnamon bun for dessert.
Meanwhile, outside Naughty Boy on Monday three friends, Wahab Alasfoor, Chakla Alqudairi, and Ahmad Almathkour shared a couple of Instashakes between them. Alqudairi spotted pictures of the shakes on Instagram and suggested a visit. They said they would never have gone to Naughty Boy otherwise.