Using Food Photography to Market Your Hospitality Business

If aliens were to visit Earth and check out social media, they’d think ours is a planet ruled by cats—or cupcakes. You know it: the only thing people adore as much as a cute kitty meme and a good selfie is an excellent food shot. Even as the whole Internet has become a food photography haven of sorts, don’t think it’s too late to join the trend and let your hospitality business reap the benefits of what could be your cheapest advertising ever.

The statistics:

  • Most people (25%) take food photos as part of a food diary of sorts—no special occasion, just sharing. Others (22%) do so to demonstrate a finished product, like a batch of biscotti they baked for tea. Finally, some (16%) take photos to document a special occasion, like that one time your friend posted a picture of their birthday cake.
  • What’s the most popular word used in food photo captions? It’s “dinner.”
  • A majority (72%) of food pictures depict main meals. Snacks and small food items simply do not get that much exposure.
  • Desserts are a favourite subject in food photography (18.3%), followed by vegetables (17.8%) and poultry (13%).
  • There are lots of marketing opportunities in food photos. Even in 2011, 12% of photos displayed specific brands.

Taking Great Food Photos

There was a time when food photography was only for the pros. This was back when camera film was too expensive for trial-and-error. Thanks to camera phones, everyone can now do a decent food shot with enough preparations and often, the right filters. High-end meals and cheap cravings meet online, either tucked away or displayed for everyone to see in Instagram and other image sharing media.

As a hospitality business owner, you can transform a trend into a vital part of your marketing campaign for your restaurant, café or bar. But first, the photos. Here are some tips for creating awesome and marketing-grade food shots:

1. Check your equipment. Sure, you don’t need expensive cameras to take impressive photos. But if you can invest in good equipment, please do so. If you cannot afford a decent DSLR, you can opt for a nice smartphone instead. With the rapid progress in phone camera technology these days, it’s easy to find a device that can deliver the quality you need at a price you can take. Online professional and user reviews are good places to start your search.

2. Plate your food. At the end of the day, your food photography project is only as good as your subject. Plating your food à la MasterChef is the way to go. Don’t worry, it’s really not as hard as you might think.

  • Clean your container. Nothing turns diners off more than dirty dinnerware. You can use a variety of colours for your plates and bowls especially if you want contrast, but white is always the safe choice. Not only does white look cleaner, it also looks best with proper lighting and helps bring out the hues and textures of your dishes.
  • Bring out your food’s colour. Don’t present photos of food that look soggy or discoloured. Humans are visual creatures, so making your food’s colour and texture stand out is the best way to attract attention. Make sure your food is fresh and not overcooked.
  • Make size matter. Have you ever wondered why chefs often plate small portions of food? The small size helps emphasise details and the artistry of the presentation. Big servings are best used when it’s relevant to your message, such as if you are advertising an eat-all-you-can option. Additionally, one of the primary rules in plating is to make your food look tall. This is why you see food piled up tall on professional photos, albeit in beautiful ways.
  • Use the sauce. This is the Chekhovian gun of food presentation. If your dish has sauce, make sure it’s there not just to flavour the food. Drizzle, swirl, or shower it on your food as you see fit, but don’t overdo it.
  • Garnish. Improve the visual appeal of your dish by adding florets, swans, rosebuds and other garnishes. Even chopped coriander, spring onions, nuts or other herbs and spices sprinkled over the dish can do the trick.
  • Make it appetising. Some foods you can’t help from looking less than appealing even if they do taste good. Spaghetti is either dry or slimy and casserole just looks er—brown. Presenting spaghetti in a beautiful curl and adding garnish to “brown” dishes are a good way to make them look appetising. Finally, if there are spills, residues and prints left on the borders of the plate, make sure to wipe them off with a damp paper towel.

3. Let there be light. Filters are a great way to add a different oomph to your photos, but they tend to blur a few details here and there. You need clear, professional-looking photographs for food marketing. Good lighting elevates the results of your food photography campaign, helping create pictures that your customers are sure to love.

4. Tell a story. Everyone loves stories. Food shots are a great opportunity to share a little more about your business than just food. Try adding a little setting. Use an especially attractive corner in your café or restaurant, or a view of natural scenery. You may also include messages, whether part of or superimposed on the image. If you can, you may even get your staff to join in and just show them preparing the dish. Depict them adding garnish or drizzling sauce, for example. The human element will make your images more inviting.

Using the Pictures

Your food photography output can become an integral part of your visual marketing campaign. Because your photos will most definitely be digital in format, you can easily share them across social media and the rest of the Internet. If your photos are truly drool-worthy, you’ll have your audiences enquiring where and how they can get the real product.

Here are some great ideas:

1. Invade social media. Almost all social networks today have image-sharing features. Take full advantage of these by posting your food photos. Did you know that food is the leading niche in Pinterest?

2. Join niche communities. Networks like Instagram and Facebook have a lot of active communities dedicated to particular niches. Be part of these and show off your food photos to fans who are always on the lookout for new and exciting food discoveries.

3. Own a blog or site. Take a portion of the Internet and create a food photography album through a website or blog. Post your photographs and pair them with other forms of content. This pairing makes both the content and the photo more effective. For best results, optimise your blog or site for local search. This ensures that your content is found by customers within your area.

Food shots are among the best parts of the Internet, especially for food lovers. Popular media may change, but it does not seem like food photos are on the way to obscurity, nor are they going to lose their marketing power any time soon. That said, it’s definitely time to get cooking and to start getting those food shots ready.

What attracts you most in a food shot and why? Tell us in the comments below.