Menulog NewsPosted on 03.09.2014

How Social Media Is Changing The Way We Eat

Everyone’s A Critic

Social media has also become an important educational tool for sharing information about food, with Clicks & Cravings reporting 50% of consumers learning about food via social networking sites and 40% learning about food via websites, apps or blogs. Once passed on through family tradition, now recipes are posted on websites where consumers can view images of the finished product, nutritional information and leave reviews of their own experiences.

Being online means that now, rather than relying on the advice of a select few, we’re able to crowdsource opinion on practically anything. While information about food was once largely provided by experts, it’s now our peers we listen to most when making decisions about what and where to eat. Distrust of advertisers on social media and easy access to online comments and reviews means that we increasingly turn to our fellow consumers for advice and opinions – which means that those with a large social media presence can have more impact on dining trends than those with a genuine knowledge or love of food.

Thang Ngo believes “crowdsourcing” reviews has opened the scene up to a much broader array of restaurants that appeal to casual diners. “In the past food critics were like car reviewers,” he says. “They test drive an aspirational and pricy Porsche or Maserati. Meanwhile most of us drive a Corolla.”

Whereas before diners had to rely on weekly restaurant reviews from high-end critics, now there’s a wealth of online information about practically any venue. “Food critics can go high end because their publications are paying, or because they eat out so often they appreciate intricate fine dining fare,” says Ngo. “But us mortals are into a casual, uncomplicated feed at a price we can afford.”

It’s All About The Vibe

Restaurants, more than ever, have to become about the social experience rather than solely about food. The perception of a venue as a whole – its vibe, its décor, the friendliness of its staff – can be as important (if not more so) than the dishes served. To make it big in the social media age, a business needs to go further than chatting with followers on Twitter: they need to cultivate an attractive, unique and shareable image.

“Businesses need to construct content – food, in the case of restaurants – that will inspire people to take photos and share it,” says Matthew Cox. He says while food is an ideal medium for social media because it’s something that we naturally share, intelligent restaurants need to see social media as more than just cheap advertising. “The most important thing is to offer something worth talking about, something remarkable. The worst thing you can do is be like everyone else.”

To this end, restaurants and chefs have been flocking to social media. Jamie Oliver has his own YouTube channel. Mario Batali answers common cooking questions on Twitter every Tuesday. Kylie Kwong is a frequent Instagrammer. There are now lists of the best chefs to follow on Instagram and which top food hashtags will get your macaron photo noticed.

There are other ways restaurants are using social media to entice customers. In the USA, an increase in smaller, cheaper plates of food has been linked to the rise of the social media generation. The logic goes that they’re so used to sharing everything that you might as well cater to the crowd with dishes intended to be shared amongst friends. It’s a case of real life imitating technology…imitating real life.

There’s a growing trend of Australian restaurants serving small-plate, easily shareable food. With the blossoming of wine and tapas bars across Australia, so too comes the rise of picturesque dishes that are perfectly sized to fit on an iPhone screen. There are now Instagram guides to the best locations around Australian cities, often focusing on finding and ordering foods and drinks that will impress your friends online.

Social media can also affect menus more directly: consumers now provide feedback on menus even before they’ve been created. The Hungry Grasshopper in Haberfield boasts a breakfast menu chosen by Facebook fans. Chefs stage popularity contests on platforms such as Twitter to determine what ingredients they should focus on or what dishes to feature that day – a kind of dinner-time democracy that would have been unimaginable even ten years ago.

What Next?

Already there are several distinct trends emerging that will alter the way we perceive food and dining. Food criticism has become democratised and now rests in the hands of bloggers and food review websites. Experiential dining – all about visuals, sounds and textures as well as taste – is well represented by popular chefs like Heston Blumenthal and Masterchef judge George Calombaris. Linked to this is the concept of video as an easy sharing medium, with the rise of video apps like Vine and Viddy and streaming services like Skype and Google Hangouts allowing users to share experiences (such as meals, discussions or cooking demonstrations) in real-time.

What does this mean for diners? More spectacle, more information, more scrutiny, more direct communication with food producers and creators. Get used to drooling over your desktop: those macarons aren’t disappearing from your Facebook feed anytime soon.