May 19, 2020

What Great Food Photography Can Do For Your Restaurant

By Mike Rocco

When it comes to marketing your restaurant, food photography can play a critical role in positioning your brand with your target audience. But with everything you have to juggle on a daily basis, is it really worth the added time—and most importantly, added budget—to make your food look as appetizing as possible?

Certainly, we think so. But instead of taking our word for it, we set out to ask the upcoming generation of customers—millennials and GenZers—what their expectations are with restaurant food photography, and if they choose where they want to eat based on what the photography looks like. The fact that this article is being written makes it pretty easy to guess what they said, but there’s more to the story than you probably think. Like what goes into great food photography, how do you make the most of the added cost, and does it really pay off at the register.

“Pictures are really what I look at most. When I am figuring out where I want to eat, I look at what’s nearby and then look at their pictures on my phone.” – Chris, 25 years old

It’s a Visual World. Your Restaurant Marketing Should Be, Too

You’ve heard the saying, “People eat with their eyes.” Well, as attention spans get shorter and shorter, that isn’t changing anytime soon. Photos will only become more and more important as the next generation becomes customers.

That’s because this next generation has grown up with a camera in their pocket. And with the help of filters, Photoshop, and social media, they sure know how to use it. If your food photography isn’t up to their “amateur” level, you won’t even stand a chance advertising against competitive restaurants.

“I am a visual person, so if the pictures of their food aren’t appealing then I won’t go. It needs to look pretty if I am going to taste it.” – Lauren, 31 years old

Professional Food Photography Is Key To A Successful Marketing Strategy

So if your target audience’s “amateur” level of photography is the cost of entry, what are restaurants like yours to do to compete?

Let’s start with another simple question: You spend so much time creating, testing, tweaking, and perfecting each and every menu item, don’t you want to showcase those items the best you can? Obviously, the answer is, “Yes.”

To do just that, your restaurant has to go “professional” with its food photography. Because just like with food preparation and plate presentation, when it comes to photography, details matter greatly. So hire someone who knows food styling—it’s very different than food prep—as well as lighting, composition, and so much more. And believe it or not, iPhones are good, but professional gear is so much better.

What’s more, when you find your expert food photographer and/or food stylist, stick with him or her. As they get to know you and your brand, they’ll get faster and better at showcasing your menu items. As an added benefit, as their speed increases, the cost per shot could even go down.

The bottom line is, great photography in your advertising and marketing enhances your target audience’s appetite and builds their excitement and anticipation for the food items on your menu. The more they want to eat your food, the more likely they’ll come to your restaurant for take-out or dine-in.

Great Food Photography Can Be Used Across All Marketing Channels

We all know first impressions are everything, right? So where will your target audience first get exposed to your restaurant brand? This day and age, the list of possibilities is endless.

It’s most likely somewhere in the digital world right next to your competitors’ best food shots. It could be a review on Yelp, a mobile display ad, a Facebook or Instagram post, even a simple online search…the list goes on and on.

If media budget permits, let’s not forget traditional advertising like TV, direct mail, and more. They’re all still great ways to create brand awareness and drive foot traffic to your restaurant. So make sure you’re showcasing the best menu items you have in those traditional media channels—even if that means video, too.

“I’m always seeing food on Instagram…sometimes that’s how I find new places for me and my friends to eat.” – Ellie, 18 years old

All Of Your Restaurant Locations—Starting With Your Website

Once the great-looking food photography in your advertising and marketing has customers wanting more, it’s important to know the place they usually go next is not your restaurant, it’s your website.

So put your best menu items, LTOs, or offers on the home page of your website. Even better, if you can, show a photo of every item on your menu. At the very least, showcase the menu items with your highest margins…as great photos will help you sell more of those highly profitable menu items.

But don’t stop there. Within your restaurant locations, showcase appetizers, drinks, special deals, and more on posters, table tents, physical menus, etc. The more you show, the more you sell.

And great plate presentation can start the cycle all over again, because when you give customers food that looks as great as it tastes, what do they do with it? They share it on Yelp, Instagram, and other digital platforms…driving new and more traffic than ever before.

“I do go to restaurant websites, but first I always look at the pictures of their food on Google and Yelp when I am deciding where to eat.” – Courtney, 28 years old

“I also really like pictures of the food on Yelp from people who have been there.” – Allie, 26 years old

Best Of All, Visual Marketing Pays Off At The Register

The pizza restaurant TV commercials from long ago proved great looking food can increase sales, after loads of research was done to see if delivery sales increased immediately after commercials aired. Sure enough, the more appetizing the pizza, the more customers picked up the phone and called almost immediately. These same pizza places created a media buy that targeted customers when they were ready to eat—at lunch and dinner time. And let’s not forget the ol’ late-night snack.

The same idea works today. Want to run a lunch special with a gorgeous food shot and a great offer? Don’t start running your ad on social after lunch is over. Same goes for dinner. Or weekend specials. Time out your digital offers, so when appetites are getting whet, your marketing, advertising, and great food photography hit the spot, creating instant traffic to your website and restaurant locations.

Creating a Bond With Your Customer Before They Enter Your Restaurant

The ironic thing in all of this is, you’re probably already giving people what they want: great-looking, great-tasting food. All you have to do you is start letting them enjoy that experience before they ever step foot in your restaurant—with food photography in the online world in which they spend so much time, to whet the appetite and generate traffic to both your website and restaurants.


TLDR: Food Experiences Start Way Before Customers Step Foot In Your Restaurant

  • They start online. The better you make that online experience with great looking-food photography, the more likely they are to end up in your restaurant.
  • You spend so much time creating, testing, tweaking, and perfecting each and every menu item, don’t you want to showcase those items the best you can?
  • The younger generation of customers grew up with an iPhone in their pocket. Their expectation is, if your food photography isn’t good then you’re food probably isn’t either.
  • If your food looks good in your marketing and advertising materials, their next step usually isn’t into your restaurant, it’s to your website. Great photos on your homepage and your online menu can be critical in getting foot traffic to your restaurant.

Source for quotes: Independent Research Study.