How much time do cafe, restaurant and bar owners really spend on social media for menu inspiration? Karla Sinclair reached out to four figures in hospitality to hear their take on its influence.
As much as some would hate to admit it, we spend a lot of time scrolling through social media.
Whether that involves watching the latest food and drink crazes on TikTok, keeping up-to-date with new menus launching via Facebook or browsing the top brunch spots to visit in the area on Instagram, it has become an integral part of our lives.
And that includes the lives of those working in the hospitality industry, who take to online platforms for inspiration, whether it be for dishes, interior design and more.
But why exactly do they do this? Iwona Szmid, owner of BioCafe on Rosemount Viaduct in Aberdeen, says the vibrant pictures she spots inspire her cafe’s colourful meals.
BioCafe was launched in March 2019 and quickly established itself as a go-to spot for those that love snapping pictures of their meals – something that has fast become a trend for foodies.
The cafe team is passionate about promoting a healthy lifestyle, offering fresh free-from food, guilt-free and refined sugar-free desserts, and nutritional snacks and bites for breakfast and lunch.
Iwona said: “At BioCafe, we try to keep offering colourful looking food. We are playing with different ingredients, often inspired by different cultures and kitchens.
“For example, we were inspired by the Mediterranean kitchen – their dishes, how they prepare their foods, what ingredients they use, and so on – before travelling and seeing some pictures of the cuisine on social media.
“We then created a summer Mediterranean sharing platter with homemade hummus, orzo pasta, feta cheese, homemade tartare sauce, marinated peppers, sundried tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, and so on.
I only use Instagram. It is easy to use and because of the hashtags, you can find whatever you want.”
Iwona Szmid, BioCafe
“Customers love our food, often because it is ‘different’ – this is what we hear a lot. It is colourful and bright, offers unique flavours and each dish looks Instagrammable.
“I think we all use social media to stay in touch with our friends and, as an owner, I use it to stay in touch with our customers and keep them updated.
“I sometimes take inspiration from it when I see bright and colourful images that remind me of holidays – lots of my ideas come from those pictures.
“I only use Instagram. It is easy to use and because of the hashtags, you can find whatever you want.”
Target younger market
Gemma Taylor, owner and manager of Blend in Inverness, says her customer base is primarily teenagers and young adults who are more likely to opt for menu items influenced by online sites.
As trends are constantly evolving, Gemma says that using social media regularly makes it easier for her to keep on top of things.
“We frequently use Facebook and Instagram to promote new items,” Gemma said.
“Our team also posts photos of the menus and details of any offers which are currently on. And we do a ‘drinks of the moment’ board, so it’s a good way of promoting those when they change.
“We definitely always keep an eye on Instagram for drinks trends especially – Instagram has definitely been the most useful platform for us. And also when trying to find new vegan options as there are constantly more products becoming available.”
There’s a huge number of 11 to 16-year-olds who now visit solely for bubble tea.”
Gemma Taylor, Blend
Blend, which opened its doors in December 2013 and is situated on Drummond Street in the Highland capital, offers a variety of breakfast and lunch dishes (with vegan options available), as well as an extensive speciality drinks menu including milkshakes and smoothies.
But one product that has proved particularly popular, thanks to social media, is their bubble tea – a tea-based drink which consists of chewy tapioca balls.
Gemma said: “We started serving the bubble tea around five years ago but eventually took it off the menu because it wasn’t very popular.
“After seeing it appear more on social media, we brought it back and it’s now one of the most popular things we do.”
The surge in popularity of the app TikTok spurred Gemma to add the item back onto the cafe’s menu.
Gemma added: “I think our average customer age is definitely getting younger, so I’ve found that even though bubble teas have been popular for years, it’s really taken off since teens have been seeing more of them on TikTok.
“There’s a huge number of 11 to 16-year-olds who now visit solely for bubble tea.
“Other than those, I’d say the kombucha, which we get locally from Gut Feelings, has also been influenced by social media.”
Emily Garrioch, supervisor at The Tartan Pig in Aberdeen, agreed that the team at the dog-friendly cafe also use TikTok frequently.
At the moment, TikTok is very popular so if I or any of the other staff see something we think would work well in the cafe, we test it out.”
Emily Garrioch, The Tartan Pig
“Food and drink trends are definitely taken into account here at The Tartan Pig,” she said.
“We want to offer things that our customers love and keep them happy.
“When the rise of the avocado happened a few years back, we certainly took this and ran with it. One of our most popular menu items is our BAO – a bacon, avocado and onion pretzel bun.
“At the moment, TikTok is very popular so if I or any of the other staff see something we think would work well in the cafe, we test it out.
“Recently, I saw this guy on TikTok making different breakfast wraps, so I added it to the menu here for everyone to try!
“Along with avocado and wraps, we have noticed on Instagram and TikTok how popular Biscoff is. Because of this, the cafe has Biscoff lattes, brownies, cheesecake and waffles – we give the people what they want.
“Customers seem to love all of these products, it’s great.”
The cafe team has used social media as a way to promote its offering ever since opening its doors in the west end in 2018.
Emily added: “In terms of social media, the whole team here help out promoting our wee cafe on social media, from coming up with new ideas for the menu, to taking pictures of smoothies and lunches that we are super proud of.
“We also work with a lot of other local businesses and promote their produce on our social media, too.
“We are all so happy to be able to have customers sit in our cafe again. It’s so nice to see some smiley faces after the last year.”
Jackie Cannon, owner of The Flame Tree Cafe in Dundee, opened the venue in May 2015, and says the team use social media now more than ever.
She added: “Our social media presence is hugely important and is essentially the only form of advertising we do.
The team and I still get a thrill from seeing people ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ when plates are put down in front of them.”
Jackie Cannon, The Flame Tree Cafe
“The bulk of the content we post is reposting and resharing pictures from customers, which is fantastic as so many of our customers are much better photographers than us!
“The team and I still get a thrill from seeing people ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ when plates are put down in front of them and watching them start taking photos before digging in.
“The number one priority is providing something delicious, but the presentation is always a big part of everything that gets served as we are well aware that people also eat with their eyes.
“The whole team are very aware of the importance and impact of social media as many of them are also artists, musicians, performers with their own accounts.”
Situated on Exchange Street, the cafe has become well-known for offering something for everyone – including vegans and those with various allergies, intolerances and dietary requirements – as well as its captivating rainbow bagels.
Jackie said: “For me right now, I use Instagram the most. I tend to keep an eye on some of my favourite cafes in Sydney, London and New York to see if there are new products or trends that we might be able to introduce to Dundee.
“It’s great to see what new trends are popping up. Over the years, we have introduced a number of new products and partnered with various suppliers after becoming aware of them on social media.
The presentation is always a big part of everything that gets served as we are well aware that people also eat with their eyes.”
Jackie Cannon, The Flame Tree Cafe
“Our rainbow bagels weren’t originally influenced by social media as we became aware of them when attending a trade show five years ago, but they are by far the most photographed and posted items on The Flame Tree Cafe’s menu.
“They are so popular. I think it’s down to the fact they have a great wow factor visually and scream out to be photographed – importantly though, they also taste great.”