Tag Archives: restaurant marketing

Tips for Successful and Gorgeous Restaurant Food Photos and Photography

Download: Photo Shot List Organizer (excel spreadsheet).

After shooting over 200 restaurants in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, I have a few tips to share to help restaurants have great success with their photographs.

  1. Develop a list of shots that you need. Menu updates are always the most popular request. But catering promotions, social media updates, websites, and wall decor are all a close second and intertwined with menus. Use our handy photograph organizer: Photo Shot List Organizer (excel spreadsheet).  We can share it in Google Drive or Dropbox so that multiple team members can collaborate together. I have found that this exercise helps the shoot day go very fast and smooth and it increases both the number of shots and the quality of the shots.
  2. List your images by priority starting with the most important and ending with the least important. That way you will get the most important ones done first. I find that a restaurant has a limit to the time it can spend because it has to serve its customers! And it is okay to spread the shoot over multiple days to accommodate business hours. By making a list you might decide to do food one day and drinks another day.
  3. Organize by “setup.” It wastes time to switch from drink to entree to dessert to drink to entree to dessert. It is always better to start with one type of menu item and then proceed to the next. Part of the key to success to stay on budget is to shoot one scene with many items and then go to the next scene. For example we would shoot all of the plated entrees and then go to beverages because the setup changes for each. If you have the space in your facility we can create 2-3 scenes and go between them if necessary. So we can shoot drinks while the kitchen is preparing the entrees. Keep clicking is my motto!

  4. Make sure you have a few clean props ready or indicate the props needed on the shot list. Most restaurants have many great props and they just need to clean them and put them together before the shoot. I own quite a few props and can bring them but I feel that YOUR props are what make your restaurant and photos special. The round table top in this photo came from the restaurant’s foyer while the food ingredients came from its kitchen. I supplied the black cutting board.
  5. Easy low-cost props include: your condiments and sauces, rollups of silverware in cloth napkins, stacks of dishes, take-out bags and boxes, checkered parchment paper, silverware, cutting boards, napkins (if cloth), spices, herbs, fresh produce, glasses, olive oil, vinegar, and wine. When using your dishes, sauces, spices, napkins, and cutlery, the photo  becomes YOUR brand. You do not have to go to a great expense to buy a lot of props you won’t use. This ramen house excelled with interesting spices, a kitchen knife and great ingredients.
  6. We can supply our custom painted backdrops. You can decide if you like a light white look, a dark dramatic look, or a neutral look with lots of color.  I have a whole gallery of hand-painted and created backdrops that give you a cohesive look that will set your food apart. We can choose them for you at your shoot because I always have them with me.
  7. A quiet location near the kitchen is best for the shoot. I have designed the lighting equipment to give you the most dramatic and beautiful light for food. And of course we can work with the existing and beautiful natural light in your facility.

There are several ways to prop a shot and while they are a great start they do not have to be a hard and fast rule.

Styling can focus on one of three purposes:

  1. How you make it (knives, spices, raw ingredients)
  2. How you serve it (chafing dishes, glasses, plates, utensils)
  3. How you eat it (sauces, condiments, napkins, plates, utensils).

You can mix all of these of course. My two standard rules and questions are where is the red and where is the green? Because when you mix those two colors you can never go wrong. Usually these items are quickly found when I take a tour of the dining room and the kitchen.

In this shot I fell in love with all of the serving utensils and plates right away.

This salad could be eaten at a desk and the focus is on the dish.

This dish comes with an array of salads.

Whereas in this shot the story was all about how the food was made with the beautiful raw ingredients.

And in this shot the story was about the spices.

Sometimes a little process like carving and juice can be included:

Since you are making everything right in your kitchen you have a lot of possibilities for mouth-watering shots of your cooking process.

And fast food can even look good when you complement the lines of the boxes with lines in the styling and show how it is served. Red and green makes all of the difference!

One of my specialties is developing YOUR story. My first client asked me, “how would you style my crepes?” And I gave him a great studio test shot. But then we quickly realized, while the studio shot was amazing, it did not have his touch. And so we came up with a shot that was all about him and highlighted his shot. I soon realized that was the key to success and I have not stopped on the approach to shoot on location for a restaurant.

Here is a shot in progress – from styling to shooting multiple angles to the final output.

(behind the scenes photos courtesy of my LA friend, Dianne Waldman and her iPhone)

 

 

Snapshot: In House Marketing

After dozens of great shoots this month from LA and San Francisco, I wanted to highlight a new trend I see in restaurant marketing. It is quite simple. Market more to the customers you already have. It is hard to get new customers because you have to come up with creative advertising and spend money on direct mail and online digital ads. So it makes sense to treat your customers really well and to offer them more services and upsells. I see my client restaurants accomplishing this many ways and wanted to share the trends.

  1. Capture people walking by your location with great food photo decals on the windows and doors. It is silly cheap ($100 or less for most sizes) to print a window or wall decal and they are removable so you can change them out. Take a look at your windows, walls, and doors. Are there old decorations? A lot of dead space? It is time to take a look at your space as a customer! Need decals? Contact us to handle the photography and printing!
  2. Make sure your menu board photos are cohesive and looking really good with a wow factor. I worked with one restaurant over several months to capture photos of all of their menu category items. The chef and I worked to create some of my most amazing photos with action shots of him pouring coffee, building sandwiches, and plating desserts (see the beverage and dessert sections of my portfolio). The result is that all of the photos now show his most recent creations and they look like they go together. Since he is in a downtown space he is putting the photos on his windows and doors to entice customers to walk into his restaurant. Once inside, they can see beautiful menu boards and a branded wall. He has also created a retail center for gifts and to highlight his catering services. I was impressed because he was willing to say that all of the old decorations he once valued were not adding money to his bottom line! That is a pragmatic epiphany!
  3. Consider a unique selling point sign and branding awareness on the inside of your restaurant. One of the restaurants that is using the food photos on the walls came up with a fun sign to state that they are about food, beverages, and friends and it adds a nice atmosphere and touch to create a memorable experience. It made so much sense for him to take down all of the dusty and busy art on the walls and to use them for branding! I created the sign for him.
  4. Show your customers your food while they are in your restaurant. I see restaurants doing this doing this with photo slide shows on TV screens and photos on the walls. I just flew to LA to shoot for a restaurant that is going to completely redo their walls with the photos of their menu items as the art. This restaurant worked very hard to have the most amazing colorful food and we created a cohesive show of all of their most popular items.
  5. Market your catering services to your customers. Restaurants are presenting brochures to the people coming into the restaurant with fun party packages like a party in a bag and they are adding photo on their websites and social media channels to show that they cater. The most successful restaurants have great catering programs. People want to know that you have a package that they can order.
  6. Use and optimize menus on meal delivery apps. I hear every chef, restaurant manager, or owner say that they are increasing their takeout and online app business like crazy but they all complain about the commissions.

I know that the restaurant owners and mangers are super busy but the temptation to just upload your existing menu seems questionable if your prices won’t cover this added expense. Customers want to order a great meal fast so it would make sense to have combo items that boost your ticket average to improve the bottom line. Use the online delivery platforms to create and test a meal combo or family meal that is easy to order and brings in a top check average. Most restaurants say that the online app orders select many options so it is clear that people want to order more!

Sometimes I see menu prices that are painfully low even though the restaurants are in affluent neighborhoods and very busy. When is the last time you did some market research to see what your competitors are charging? Can you experiment with a price increase on some items?

It is so intriguing to see how the meal delivery ordering app systems are rapidly changing the restaurant industry. I liken it to Amazon and retail shopping.

I see restaurants that just put their whole menu on an online ordering system without any thought to what people want as take out or trying to sell good packages. Restaurants have to give a hefty commission to these services. But they do get ancillary sales and new customers with no money out of pocket being spent and it helps them scale their business without having to buy more retail space. You should download the apps to your smart phone and take a look at your competition along with your own presence so you can fine tune what you offer.

 

 

Shooting Restaurant Menus

A tour of expressionfood.com includes my creative Still Life portfolio along with the shots of over 150 restaurants here in California in the SF bay area and in LA. I have styled all of the shots using the ingredients, vessels, and tools of each restaurant so it is truly an expression of their work. Many of the chefs have collaborated on the shoots. My biggest payment is to see their smile when they look at the back of my camera.

Restaurants have to market themselves so many ways now in our digital era. Some of the best tactics include getting on delivery app platforms, using TVs in the restaurant to create a branded, custom marketing channel with menu items and services, social media, videos, direct mail, Google CPC, blogging, website menus, and emailing. There has never been a more important time for restaurants to show their best work in professional photos and I am so happy to be of service.

Here is one shoot that was done in 1.5 hours! This was made possible by styling one scene and by the whole staff of the restaurant being so prepared.

The background board was designed by me. I used burned wood from a hike in Big Basin to digitally paint a black, burned wood background. It really sets off the beautiful colors of the Indian food. I have a whole series of background boards that I have designed for restaurants. This is a new restaurant called Konaseema Kitchen that is opening in Fremont.

   

Restaurant Open Table and Web Marketing 11-Point Checkup

If you are a restaurant owner, manager, chef, or marketer, you might want to take the time to compare your Open Table page and or website to those of your competitors. If a guest is looking for a restaurant in your area at 7:00PM don’t you want them to grab a reservation at your establishment first? A photo tells a thousand words. And customers make an instant decision and judgement based on a quick glance of what they see in 1-2 seconds. Can you really afford to use the photos that someone took with their smartphone?

Consider this Open Table, web, social media, and print advertising checklist:

  1. Does the establishment show its best side or view with beautiful light in your photos?
  2. Are the photos white balanced so that the food looks appetizing and not too blue or yellow?
  3. Is the food in good light and focused so everyone can tell what it is?
  4. Is the food arranged so that complementary colors are used and an abundance of color shows a story of graciousness and generosity? Customers can tell in a minute if you care. The right photos can set you apart quickly.
  5. Is the staff smiling? Are your customers having a great time in your photos?
  6. Do you have a representation of the diversity of your staff and customers in your photos?
  7. Are there closeup shots of the food that are so enticing people want to click “reserve now” without flipping through your competitor’s sites first?
  8. Is your menu up to date?
  9. Do your photos show your chef’s best and current work?
  10. Is there a cohesive style to the photos?
  11. Is your best foot forward in your photos and story?

It is a worthwhile investment to hire me to shoot for you for a quarter, half, or full day. You can have my food styling, planning and story telling talent, along with all of the pictures I can shoot in your timeframe. I aspire to deliver a lot of great photos for your every use. Download ExpressionFood brochure with story questionnaire and shoot planning list

I am dedicated to planning, developing your best story, and delivering an amazing aesthetic on the images I produce for you. When you win, I win. It’s that simple.

A new marketing director client was considering me (story coming up soon!) and she did pick me out of all of my competitors. Why? Well, for one thing I took the time to listen to her story, view her website, and then come up with a Pinterest board showing her the images I thought would be best to tell her story. Then I took a physical tour of her restaurant, developed the style, story, and props along the way. She was smitten. My vast culinary experience, artistry, and sense of style were engaged to pre-style the shots while we talked and toured every inch of the restaurant. We came up with new ways of seeing and showing the restaurant. New ways of showing the staff preparing the food. And a clean, exciting, modern way of showing the best part of their restaurant. The uses of the images will include Open Table, website, social media, email, brochures and an airport banner. The shoot is now scheduled.

Her comment was that she could not wait to set everything up like that every day including the day of the shoot. It is this vision and talent that I wish to share!

Why would I give away this time before the shoot to consult for the project? Because I want us both to win! To serve the customer with nothing less than the best is always my motto. The devil is always in the details and the preparation and the ultimate goal is to help us all look our very best. The time spent finding the right shot examples, discussing the shots, developing the props, light, style, models, and image samples is well spent. It means that we can set up fast, develop a beautiful shot you can see on my computer, and then fly to create the maximum amount of beautiful shots in a day.

I have spent my life with food and have an amazing vision that makes the food shots look like no other. My vision wants to make everything clean and simple with dramatic light that is sculpted to show the food. When you buy Expression Food services for a quarter, half, or full day you get the style and the photographs. By doing the work before the shoot you get a great deal of pleasure with the photographs that we produce as a team effort. Heaven help your competitors!