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  • Writer's picturePloy Tanomvorsin

The Science of Foodstagramming and User-Generated Content

October 27, 2022

By Ploy Tanomvorsin

Since moving to New York City, I have been overwhelmed by the number of restaurants I was exposed to and wanted to try. On my list, I have traditional family-owned restaurants like Katz’s Delicatessen and Peter Luger Steak House, which have stood the test of time for the quality of their ingredients and preparation. I also have newer, more trendy restaurants, like RH Rooftop and Citizens of Bleecker, which are known for their frequent appearances in social media posts. In a city where must-go restaurants occupy seemingly every street, it is also apparent how “foodstagramming,” the act of taking photos of one's food and sharing it on social media, helps restaurants gain attraction and increase their awareness.

Courtesy of Rachel Yupangco

Why Share Food Photos?

Most likely, you've heard phrases like "phone eats first," meaning that before you start digging into your food, you snap an aesthetic photo to post online. So, why has this become such a norm? Social media users often share posts about their everyday lives; this content varies from what they are wearing, where they are traveling, and, of course, what they are eating. According to a blog post by Harvard University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, it is an attempt to seek positive social stimuli, which rewards the user with a dopamine rush. For example, after users post photos of their food, they wait for others to interact by liking or commenting, which serves as a sense of validation. So, going to the trendiest restaurant or taking a drool-worthy photo of a $38 steak can make others perceive you as "cool" or "in the know."

The Effects of Foodstagramming on Enjoyability

The simple act of taking a photo of your food can lead to increased enjoyment. In the process of repositioning the plates and silverware, moving the camera to find the most flattering lighting, and directing fellow diners to pose, the "foodstagrammers" put in a lot of effort before even trying their food. According to a study by the Association for Psychological Science, the ritualistic behavior of taking food photos beforehand prompts consumers to become more involved with the consumption process, thereby increasing their enjoyment.

Furthermore, the Journal of Consumer Marketing shares that merely taking photographs of food also builds anticipation for the consumer, and the reward of finally getting to try it makes the food taste better. In addition to the elements needed for a food photo, diners are also under the pressure to get the perfect shot before the food becomes too cold, or until their company is too impatient. So, once the diner has captured the “perfect” photo, they can finally satiate their anticipation upon finally trying their food, which results in heightened enjoyability.

The Value of Good Presentation For Restaurants

With a good ambiance and thoughtful dish presentations, restaurants can receive free advertising with user-generated content (UGC). Customers may even justify the higher prices that come with these “Instagrammable” dishes, because of the bragging rights. It seems that the aesthetics of the dish are even more important than the taste; in a survey by Study Finds, 40 percent of participants admitted to uploading images of food they did not consume.

Another benefit of social media-worthy food is that consumers prefer UGC, which serves as credible “social proof” that the restaurants are worth trying. Since only 4% of American consumers trust advertising media, as detailed in AdAge’s analysis of data from The American Association of Advertising Agencies, UGC is a more reliable review of the restaurants. Even though the dishes are laid out as if ready for a commercial shoot, if a regular person shares the photo, it should be representative of the restaurant's quality, right?

Courtesy of Time Out


Ploy Tanomvorsin is a Sophomore at NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study and a member of the Fall '22 Content Committee. Her interests are photography, filmmaking, economics, and creative writing.

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