Neon signs, LED lighting and kitschy decor make for an appetizing feast for the eyes at these buzzworthy eateries
Lights, camera, dinner.
Restaurants are being designed with Instagram in mind as owners pay upwards of $5,000 to create special tables and lighting tailored to making food look as good as it tastes — no filter necessary.
For the second iteration of Boston Chops DTX, a new steakhouse coming to downtown Boston next month, a big challenge for owner and chef Chris Coombs was making the dimly-lit, windowless 11,000-square-foot space that was formerly a bank lobby appeal to social media savvy diners.
“I’ve always been the type of chef that believes you eat with your eyes first. In the last few years you eat with your eyes first, your lens second and then your mouth,” Coombs tells Moneyish.
The steakhouse is known for its photogenic comfort food marvels like the pork belly mac and cheese, butternut squash ravioli or a tower of crispy fried onion rings seen all over Insta. But getting steak, the main event, to look pretty is tough.
“Beef has always been a challenging subject to shoot because it doesn’t have that beautiful brightness like beets, carrots or greens. Any help with good lighting is a plus,” says Coombs.
So he consulted with a professional photographer and local Instagram influencers to create a table for two with an overhead LED light panel five and a half feet above the table top that has a color temperature of 6,500 degrees Kelvin, which gives off a blue-white light meant to mimic daylight. It also features two adjustable lamps with lighting knobs to make the light cooler or warmer, based on the diner’s preference. He says it’ll eliminate the annoying shadow you get when taking a picture of a dish in dark lighting, and deter “influencers” from climbing up on chairs to get the “perfect” food shot. Anyone can book the table in advance.
Coombs says he spent more than $5,000 to design the social media-friendly table, but he sees it as a valuable investment — free advertising.
“I look at everyone in our dining room with a smartphone as a unique marketing opportunity. If you don’t provide the space, Instagramers aren’t going to provide the content,” he says.
In recent years, Instagrammable foods like giant milkshakes, ramen burgers, unicorn lattes and rainbow everything have been responsible for drawing in crowds waiting in line to take photos of the food before they eat it, but now it’s all about creating styled experiences to go with it designers call it an “Instagram moment,” an actual space in the eatery that looks photo ready with kitschy decor like neon signs, graffiti, comfy seating and great lighting.
“It’s the number one request with decor,” says Boston-based interior designer Erica Diskin, who has designed popular spaces throughout the city like Mexican eatery Citrus & Salt which features a voodoo lounge complete with a blue backlight and neon sign. “When people are out to dinner and want to show that they’re at a hip new spot it’s become this ‘look where I am’ and ‘Here’s this cool thing I’m experiencing,’” she adds.
At Broken Coconut, a cafe and eatery specializing in smoothies, poke bowls and yogurt in New York City, people go into a frenzy over the “Instagram moment” wall where a neon pink sign that reads “Eat Pretty” is styled with a hanging swing, black and white palm tree wallpaper and tropical plants juxtaposed with a terrazzo speckled floor. Another wall features a collage of hanging straw hats. Interior designer Jessica Schuster paired the pink, raspberry and yellow colored fruit featured on the menu with the bright, tropical-inspired decor.
“It’s meant to evoke a beachy vibe. You feel like you’re being transported somewhere else,” Schuster says. At the eatery’s new popup at the Saks Fifth Avenue Wellery, she created a bright yellow neon sign so guests can hold up their colorful blue acai bowls to the playful lighting. And it’s working – the space already has garnered more than 5,000 followers on Instagram since it opened last month.
And at Cha Cha Matcha, a Manhattan-based, Hawaiian themed mirco matcha latte and ice cream eatery dappled in millennial pink and neon palm trees, customers wait on 20 minute lines in the cold to get a towering green tea soft serve cone or birthday cake flavored corssiant. The latte art is meant to be photographed with kitschy sayings like “good vibes” and even the napkins make for a photo moment with cutesy phrases like “I love you so matcha.”
Industry experts say the viral Instagram moments are great for a restaurant launch, but decor wise, it’s important to tread lightly on the fine line of trendy and tacky if you want to retain customers.
“If it works and gets people excited that’s great. Photo friendly is one thing, but make sure not to ruin the restaurant,” says New York-based restaurant consultant Clark Wolf. “The emotional experience should be fairly simple. It’s like ballet, you want to make it look like it’s easy and if it looks like you’ve gone through a lot of trouble than it’s tacky.”
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