Dining

'Grammer Time

How Instagram is weaving its way into restaurant design
A spread of seafood at Seamore's | Photo: Katie Foster/Tasting Table
Seamore's
  • 1,339

Even the best food could use a dash of ones and zeros. Geek out with us as we explore the intersection of food and technology this month.

"If you didn't Instagram it, did it really happen?"

Though that refrain is starting to feel like the latest Bieber tune you can't get out of your head but sort of wish you could, Instagram is here to stay, particularly in the restaurant world. Aliza Sokolow, who owns the Poppyseed Agency, which provides social media consulting (and Instagram services) for various restaurants in L.A., tells clients: "I can't tell you how much money you're going to make by investing in social media," but if you/customers post a photo of an incredible egg sandwich, "people will think about that fried egg sandwich until they get it."

Instagram's role in a restaurant these days is more than just the stunningly plated (or intentionally wacky) food that compels a diner to whip out one's phone and take a photo. Instagram is starting to weave its way—both consciously and unconsciously—into restaurant design, impacting table surfaces, focal point art, lighting and more.

Photo: Alex Stein

Michael Chernow, Owner of Seamore's and Co-owner of The Meatball Shop
Chernow's latest restaurant project, Seamore's, a seafood spot with a summery vibe in Manhattan, is arguably one of the most Instagram-friendly restaurants in New York, seeing as how it's flooded with light, pops of color and artwork. And that isn't by chance. "Instagram was absolutely, 100 percent taken into account" when he was planning the restaurant, Chernow says. Especially when it came to the surfaces where most of the 'grams would be taken. He took a page from cookbook photography, "whitewashed wood, slate, zinc and concrete. . . . When I was thinking about surfaces at Seamore's, I wanted to implement those backdrops as potential backdrops" for diners' photos. Plain white plates were also a conscious choice: "It's like having a blank canvas, and the food is the actual show piece. . . . Every dish, if you're doing the right thing, gets thrown up on Instagram."

Photo: Tasting Table

Ken Fulk, Restaurant, Interior and Event Designer
Fulk, who has designed a variety of spaces including Major Food Group's Las Vegas outpost of Carbone and its bagel temple, Sadelle's, says: "It's like the chicken and egg: Does Instagram inspire design, or is it design that inspires Instagram? It's a bit of both." He's yet to have a client approach him specifically about Instagram-related concerns, but he says the app is working its way into restaurant design in another way: by influencing designers. "You get inspired by it, because people have become great at documenting spaces and things. . . . You now have literally millions of people out there posting these beautiful images, and how could you not be inspired by it?"

Photo: Courtesy of Hecho Inc.

John Kole, Restaurant Designer and Partner at Hecho Inc.
Kole, who works on design projects like Brooklyn favorite Speedy Romeo and Red Hook Lobster Pound, says that he consciously chooses not to scroll through Instagram for design ideas: "It's a little dangerous for me. There are too many pictures out there." But he sees it inspiring his clients. "Years ago, clients just came and talked to you. Nowadays, they show you Instagram files of their own. It consolidates people's likes and dislikes, which were harder to drag out of them before."

Photo: Courtesy of By Chloe

Samantha Wasser, Creative Director, ESquared Hospitality + By Chloe
Almost overnight, vegan fast-casual spot By Chloe became a hotbed for Instagram posts, and, like Seamore's, that wasn't by chance. Wasser says it played a "huge role" in their branding. "We wanted it to be eye catching and kitschy, playful and fun," she says of the upside-down ice cream icon that appears on the restaurant's windows and is peppered throughout its branding.

Another place where Insta came into the design? "Definitely in the bathroom," Wasser says. "We wanted people to take pictures. . . . It sounds crazy, [but] we wanted it to be something unexpected." The bathroom's ceiling and walls have different wallpapers (one Southwest leaning, the other sort of psychedelic pink and green). "It creates a really cool picture. Within the last few days, four people have posted selfies in the bathroom," Wasser notes, adding that it's a feature she and partner Chloe Coscarelli plan to make a staple of their growing empire.

Photo: Liz Clayman

Liz Clayman, Professional Food and Restaurant Photographer
Clayman, who regularly snaps restaurants and their dishes for the likes of New York magazine, Food & Wine and Serious Eats, explains, "A younger audience has a more sophisticated visual palate than they did 10 years ago, and designers are picking up on that and making it easy for us to appreciate that." She sees this in particular in art pieces that are the focal point in restaurant design: "PR people give me tours and always point out these, without explicitly saying that they hope people 'gram it."

And while restaurant owners aren't necessarily calling out their menus as Instagram-able, Clayman has spotted an uptick in a particular type of menu, namely paper ones that remain on the table. They're "bright and fun, almost like interchange backdrops," she says citing the menus at Seamore's, Willow and the newly opened Pasquale Jones. "Willow has [about] six different graphics at the bottom of its menus," including an illustration of a cow with a bubble thought that cheekily says, "Eat your vegetables."

Photo: Tasting Table

Patrick Janelle, Professional Instagrammer and Former Art Department Contributor at Bon Appétit
Part creative director, part professional 'grammer, Janelle spends much of his time marching (and feasting) around town, snapping photos for his stunning Instagram account. "Is Instagram influencing spaces? Anecdotally, sure," Janelle explains. "I've had conversations with people who say a space is made for Instagram. I'm surprised there hasn't been as much attention paid to this aspect." But, he admits that at times, it's hard to separate current trends in restaurant design and people capturing it on their plastic rectangles: "Modern restaurant design is intertwined with people documenting it . . . it's perpetuating the trend."

Find Seamore's here, or in our DINE app.
Find By Chloe here, or in our DINE app.
Find Pasquale Jones here, or in our DINE app.
Find the Meatball Shop here, or in our DINE app.
Find Speedy Romeo here, or in our DINE app.
Find Cafe Altro Paradiso here, or in our DINE app.

HOT STUFF
HOT STUFF

Here's What Your Waiter Knows About You Before You Sit Down

Next Step

Our Favorite Food Stories from the Week

Keep Reading
RELATED The Guac Veggie Burger NYC Is Obsessed With
RELATED The Most Epic Bagel Sandwiches, All in One Place

Around the Web

Get the Tasting Table newsletter for adventurous eaters everywhere