What chefs really think about Instagram food photos

Snap and share: Do food bloggers help or hinder chefs?
Snap and share: Do food bloggers help or hinder chefs? Photo: Shutterstock

Since its inception Instagram has not only influenced the way we eat but also how chefs think about food. And never before has food photography held more importance for a hungry audience.

"I like to share vibrant, colourful and totally drool-worthy images of food," says WA food blogger Amanda Carlin.

"Think pulled meat, runny egg combos along with decadent desserts ... that make my Instagram followers ... run out and book a table." 

Eye-catching food attracts food influencers who "snap and share", which in turn creates queues if a dish goes viral, Carlin says.

One such food-lover is event manager and PR executive Kristina Farkas, who likes to scroll through Instagram before ordering her food. She is particularly attracted to well-styled dishes.

We even purposely keep the lighting quite low in the restaurant, which isn't good for social media.

Nelly Robinson

"Menus aren't always super descriptive, leaving a lot to the imagination, and because I'm generally paying a lot for food, I like to know I'm definitely getting a dish that looks great and I'll enjoy," she says.

It seems Farkas is not alone, with 36 per cent of all Australian Instagram users following food-related accounts, according to Australian research agency Hoop Group. 

The founder of Melbourne bakery cafe Rustica Brenton Lang has noticed this growing influence.

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"A huge audience for us comes from social media," Lang says.

"If they haven't scrolled through our feed prior to coming, it's quite common they'll check it once they have their hands on the menu.

"Aesthetics matter, so I think it's about reassurance - they want to visualise what they're getting before it comes out and if they like what they see, they'll order it."

But how do chefs really feel about the influence of Instagram, and how much has it changed their job?

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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The head chef at Sydney restaurant WaterDragon Jason Chan makes sure every plate that leaves his kitchen is Instagram-friendly. If his idea for a dish doesn't match the reality on a plate, he is happy to try again from scratch until he is satisfied with the result.

"People are visual creatures [so] I do pay attention to how our food looks plated," Chan says.

The executive chef of Hanoi Hannah in Melbourne, Anthony Choi, says Instagram is a "necessary evil". 

"We've experienced how a strong social media presence can directly influence and drive bums on seats, so it's important to keep the quality of images high including the visual appeal of food," he says.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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"That being said, the priority first and foremost should be flavour, otherwise there's a danger in getting too caught up in food trends and disappearing down the rabbit hole."  

Not all chefs take the same approach, however. The executive chef and owner of Surry Hills restaurant Nel, Nelly Robinson, says Instagram is not a top consideration at his venue. 

"Don't get me wrong, we do love hearing when a customer has booked a table through seeing a photo on social media. However, it all comes down to food and taste for us - we would never scrap a dish because it didn't photograph well," he says.

"Nel is a bunker with very minimal natural lighting and we even purposely keep the lighting quite low in the restaurant, which isn't good for social media, so it deters guests from climbing on seats to the get the perfect picture," he says.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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"Personally, I've seen dishes on Instagram that look amazing but when I've gone to try them, they've been a bit of a let-down."

Robinson believes good restaurants offer a package experience. "It's the welcome at the door, the drinks list, the interiors, the staff, and so much more that makes your experience a memorable one and one worth sharing."

For Maria Kabal, the head chef at contemporary Spanish Anada Restaurant in Fitzroy, Instagram is about feeding her creativity.  

"I definitely use Instagram as a resource for work; to connect with other chefs, keep up with current trends from plating to cooking techniques and to see what ingredients other chefs are using and how," Kabal says.

"I also get a lot of customers asking for dishes they've seen on social media and I feel it's my job to give them what they want without compromising my own creativity."

Melbourne pastry chef and former Josephine Pignolet Award winner Lauren Eldridge says that while a good-looking dessert will invariably gain more attention online, Instagram can also be a burden.

"There are so many food images that if I spend too much time looking at them, they can flood my mind, making it hard to design something uniquely mine," she says.

But she doesn't reject the insta-food trend entirely.

"Although I don't like the idea of creating food for a picture, I think it would be naïve not knowing the impact a good or bad image has on people's perception and ultimately the venue's reputation," she says.

"There have been times when I've designed a dessert that looks great, but by the time it reaches the customer it may not look as beautiful. If they take a photo at that point, it's not something I'd want uploaded as it wouldn't be the best representation of my work, so I will make adjustments, which often leads to a better dish.

"Overall it has pushed me to pay detail to what a dish will look like, so I guess Instagram can be a force to better looking but also [better] tasting food."