'Instagram Bait' in Restaurants and Bars

Instagram is without doubt the hospitality sector’s most commonly used marketing tool. For this reason, it is also the most powerful.

Every man, woman and their dog (literally) has an Instagram account, which makes it a perfect channel to engage with guests. But how are some businesses so good at it, while others so average? An increasing number of restaurants and bars are generating impressive followings of their brands by utilising not just their own feeds, but by actively manipulating what guests photograph and post during a visit to their venues. 

I have friends and family who come to London to visit and they all seem to have heard of and want to try the same restaurants. How are these restaurants so appealing to non-Londoners? 

The most successful of the leaders in this category is Flat Iron. The cheap-and-cheerful steak joint is in a league of its own in terms of tagged Instagram posts: seven days a week, hundreds – sometimes thousands – of guests upload photos of their food to the platform. Flat Iron is an absolute bargain for what it is; my steak has always been served (at my request) medium-rare, seared and seasoned to perfection. But the food itself is not driving this phenomenon – it’s the presentation. A succulent steak is served on a slate panel inlaid in a rustic wooden board. Instead of a serrated knife, you’re given a miniature meat cleaver, stamped with Flat Iron’s logo. It is truly difficult to take a bad picture of what’s in front of you. Thanks to this fool-proof yet consistent presentation, the world of Instagram sees almost every steak that Flat Iron serves.

The Athenian is another brand that boasts an incredible Instagram following. Like Flat Iron, The Athenian focuses on one thing: a perfectly rolled Greek souvlaki wrap. It’s colourful, juicy-looking, and the paper sauce catcher protecting it has the brand’s sleek, simple logo printed ALL over it. Again, another dish that’s impossible to take a bad photo of and so is lusted over nationwide.

The Instagram pages of burger vendors (Burger & Beyond, Bleecker, Nanny Bills – I’m talking to you) tend to harness masses of followers because their produce looks how it tastes and is extremely photogenic. A swift glance at any of their feeds will leave you salivating more than Pavlov’s dogs. 

But what if you don’t have a food product that drives people crazy? What if having a vintage-looking meat cleaver for every guest is out of your budget?

When I first moved to London in 2012, I found myself on a boozy night out in Shoreditch (how original) and woke up to a picture in my camera roll of me cradling a kebab. It wasn’t the sloppy donner I remember, though – it was the two graffiti-style angel wings protruding from my shoulders. Just to the right of my head was some writing – ‘#redemptionbar’. This was not my scene at all, yet here I was, posing in front of a doorway to give the impression that I had wings. How bloody woke. I checked the hashtag and location, and I certainly was not the first to have done this. After looking again today, I was by no means the last. Hundreds of people daily take their photo next to this graffiti, promoting Redemption Bar with every snap.

For such examples of inexpensive creative marketing, I have coined a new term:

Instagram Bait.

You will almost certainly have seen a selfie taken in SKETCH London’s egg-infested toilets. Or perhaps a pouty snap from the toilets of a Drake & Morgan venue with an inspirational quote lipsticked on the mirror? Do the words ‘WELL BEHAVED WOMEN DON’T MAKE HISTORY’ ring a bell? If so, you probably recognise from a follower’s visit to Tonight Josephine.

There is an untapped wealth of free marketing to be had from Instagram, but you have to give the people what they want. Do you create moments during your guests’ experience they can’t resist to photograph, or are you relying on them to do all the work? 

What is your Instagram bait?

Mitch Simpson

Founder, Eighty-Six Hospitality

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