Phone Eats First

By Max Cohen

New Orleans has fallen victim to the latest pre-meal ritual: Foodstagramming. Defined as a trend which involves taking pictures of one’s food and posting them on social media, Foodstagramming has found a hot spot for picture-worthy eats in New Orleans. A natural breeding ground for creative people and delicious food, it is no surprise the city has enticed Foodstagrammers with limitless options of aesthetically pleasing restaurants and dishes. Easily produced and understood by all, photographs of food litter the feeds (no pun intended) of varying social media. The virtual sharing of our food allows users to conveniently show others what they are up to while simultaneously inducing drool. Foodstagrammer or not, photographing and then posting one’s meals is practiced by many; so much so, that the food we post has become a crucial part of our visual self-presentation and personal branding. The convenience of the mobile phone’s camera has triggered a generational shift from praying to photographing before meals, solidifying photography’s role in the modern dining experience.

            Though it may sound simple, Foodstagramming is not just a hobby; for some, the trend has blossomed into an entire business. Capturing the attention of an audience the size of a small city, @NOLAgourmand, ran by Casey Kaplan, provides its 25,200 followers with appetizing pictures from restaurants all over New Orleans. How did this former Tulanian get involved with Foodstagramming? “This started out 100% as a hobby and has stayed mostly that,” says Kaplan, “however, lots of other adjacent opportunities have grown out of @NOLAgourmand. Mainly, growing my skills in social media to gain traction and credibility in running accounts and utilizing different public relation strategies for local restaurants.” Linking New Orleans’ restaurants to their potential customers, Foodstagrams have helped the restaurant industry fulfill a previously elusive goal, reaching their audiences more personally and effectively than ever before. Kaplan explains, “We can definitely help a restaurant in New Orleans gain traction and notoriety. Before I started this account, I was using other Foodstagrams to help me decide where I was going to go for a meal that day. I think that’s mostly how people use my account.” Kaplan continues to explain how @NOLAgourmand and similar accounts are critical to the development of small businesses, “Especially for local restaurants without a big name chef or other prior notoriety, I love being able to help get their food and their name into the spotlight!”

            Foodstagrammers achieve success through careful editing, plate-side lighting, and even table tripods to ensure a restaurant’s food looks as good as possible. In addition to photographs, Foodstagrams can provide their followers with advice on where to eat, promotional offers, comprehensive reviews of menu items, and videos of how their food is prepared. Many accounts will also provide coverage of a restaurant’s ambiance, photographing the food in front of the trendiest part of the restaurant. Admired for its unique and brightly colored architecture, New Orleans is the ideal backdrop for these pictures. Kaplan’s favorite New Orleans restaurants maintain their popularity by not only serving great food, but by creating an atmosphere that compliments New Orleans’ culture while remaining unique. “Some of my current favorite trending spots are The Vintage, Claret, and Bar Marilou. My all-time favorites include St. James, Josephine Estelle, Blue Oak BBQ, and Atchafalaya.”

            @NOLAgourmand is not the only account taking advantage of New Orleans’ cuisine; boasting an extensive 12,400 followers, @spoon_tulane, currently operated by Alix Weiss, offers extensive coverage of the restaurants that crowd New Orleans. Weiss explains how @spoon_tulane and similar accounts help restaurants connect to their customers, “my account is primarily followed by Tulane students and other residents of New Orleans, many of which dine at the restaurants the account features.” When asked how a New Orleans based Foodstagram differs from that of other cities, Weiss said, “New Orleans tends to put a twist on flavor. I have posted Cavan’s Fried Oyster Cesar Salad, Ruby Slipper’s Shrimp Boogaloo Benedict, and Dat Dog’s Alligator Sausage with Blackberry Sauce. I don’t think other cities are as adventurous when crafting menu items.” 

Weiss and Kaplan are two of thousands nationwide who have dedicated themselves to Foodstagramming. The culmination of these accounts has created a trend, which holds the power to greatly increase or decrease a given restaurant’s popularity. Millennials turned entrepreneurs have capitalized on the visually appealing and appetizing nature of food, turning daily meals into social media superstars. Considering creating a Foodstagram of your own? According to Weiss the choice is well worth making, “I think one of the best benefits is when the restaurant will direct-message us and offer free food in exchange for us to post their dishes. It is great when I can help fuel my team of writers with the delicious New Orleans cuisine they are writing about.”

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