Meet Joe. Joe’s been running a local sandwich shop in Topeka for 15 years. He works hard, and the restaurant does well. Joe’s no Ansel Adams. In fact, Joe hasn’t picked up a camera since his last family vacation. But because Joe’s a smart businessman, he sees what’s happening around him. His customers are crazy about photos. They can’t get off their smartphones. And when Joe puts one of his piled-high turkey clubs in front of a customer, she snaps a picture before digging in.
So what does Joe do? He gets creative—literally. He sees his customers’ obsession with food photos as an opportunity. And so can you. According to menu engineer Gregg Rapp, taking good photos of your food pays dividends: his research shows that food images can increase sales by as much as 30%.
Great photos can increase sales by as much as 30%.
Gregg Rapp, Menu Engineer
30% more business? Let’s say your restaurant makes a million dollars per year. If you use photo marketing to its full potential, you could end up making $300,000 more than you do now. You could use that to hire new staff, put money towards a new location, or buy more than one brand new Ferrari. We’d encourage you to think twice about that last option, but hey—it’s your money. You earned it. Go nuts.
“From a culinary perspective, the phrase ‘You eat with your eyes first’ predates smartphones by many decades,” says Jackie Dulen Rodriguez, senior manager at Technomic, a food research and consulting firm. “But the rise of smartphones, selfies, and customers photographing their meals has really elevated and focused the spotlight on how important that is … The younger generation lives digitally. They don’t want to eat a meal if they are not going to take a picture of it.”
Here’s the moral of the story: if you don’t photograph your food, chances are your customers will do it for you. And when they do, they may not represent your dish in the best light. If you take your own photos, you have more control over the quality and setup. The world is more visually oriented than ever. As that trend continues, photos will remain a key part of your marketing arsenal.
We want to help you dive headfirst into photo marketing, and use the technique to its full potential. Here are some tips to help you get started.
Use Natural Light
This might be the most important tip we could give you, period. You’ll want to set up your plate so that natural light is hitting it from as many angles as possible. Even setting up a table outside—if space and weather permit—could be a good strategy. If you rely on indoor lighting, your colors may end up looking tinted. As you well know, color is an important part of what makes food look delicious.
Contrary to what you might think, more sun doesn’t always mean better light. If you photograph your food on a cloudy day (or in a shady spot), the whole scene will be evenly lit with soft light. This will keep any part of the photo from looking unnatural and losing definition.
Know Your Surroundings
See that cluttered coatrack in the corner? The pile of dishes waiting to be washed? These may be things that have to be in your restaurant, but they don’t have to be in the background of your photos. If your photo has too much going on, it’ll be difficult for people to concentrate on it. Keep it simple, whenever possible.
Here’s a tip from our photo team: avoid metal countertops and other reflective surfaces. Light will bounce off of them and distract from the focal point. If you’re unsure whether something fits into your photo, try taking it out of the equation. If the only surfaces in your restaurant are shiny chrome, put some paper or fabric down to neutralize the setting. If something seems to be an obstacle, don’t give up—improvise.
Finding Time to Take Pictures
Here’s what many restaurant owners say is the hardest part of getting into food photography: Where do you find the time?
We get it. Running a business is hard work, and you’re always busy. But if you think about it, you can probably shuffle your schedule a bit to squeeze out a few hours here and there:
- Get up early. And hey, as a restaurant owner, you probably already do. Taking photos right away in the morning before you open will give you a bit of time and plenty of good light.
- Put your staff to work. Perhaps one of your waiters is a hobby photographer, and would love to help out. It doesn’t necessarily have to be you who takes the photos.
- Rome wasn’t photographed in a day. Feel free to build up a catalog of photos over time. There’s no need to get pictures of your entire menu all at once.
Want more tips for getting started with photo marketing? Follow the link below to download the complete Restaurant Owner’s Guide to Food Photography.