The art of plating has gone hand-in-hand with the craft of cooking for ages, but presentation is more important as ever in the restaurant world. The reason why can be summed up with a simple, yet alluring phrase: free marketing.
As rude as it may be at times, guests that obsessively photograph their food at the table are essentially handing you cash every time they snap and share a picture. Social media marketing can cost you big time; CPM [cost per mil, or cost per thousand impressions] may only be a few dollars, but think about how often guests can share photos of your food, to all of their friends and followers. If you want to reach the same number of people, those dollars add up fast.
With this in mind, some restaurants may want to encourage people to post their food photos on social media. There’s a few fun ways to do this…
Make your food beautiful
Seems like a no-brainer, but food that’s pleasing to the eye will not only be viewed as more delicious, but will inspire guests to take out those smartphones. No ingredient changes needed; all that may need to be done is some simple rearrangements on the plate. Follow some simple steps to do this:
Add color, depth and height
Just like any piece of artwork, food is enhanced with color. Radishes, carrots and herbs are easy ways to add vivid color to many savory dishes. A contrasting sauce, dabs of oil across the plate or a smear of spread are more common practices that chefs employ.
Depth and height are catalysts for social media-worthy food. Fries stacked log cabin-style, rack of lamb with crisscrossed bones and sandwiches with one half peeking over the other are all methods to add something special to traditionally two-dimensional items.
Use interesting plates and glassware
If you’re in the market for these materials, you may consider spicing things up beyond the basic circular plate and tumbler glass. Serving items that allow photos to capture more food and less ceramic are always preferable. Asymmetrical bowls, for example, can help capture photos of soup and salad. Specialty cocktails in specialty glasses command a premium presence.
Keep aspect ratios in mind
For the non-photographer, aspect ratio is the photo’s width-to-height ratio. Instagram, for example, works using square photos, or a 1:1 aspect ratio. This means that ‘rectangular’ items, such as three sliders and a basket of fries presented in one long row, are difficult to fit within the frame. A chef may want to consider presenting the sliders in a triangular pattern with the fries in the center or on one side.
Beer flights are another example. Bars will often serve beers in one long row, whereas shifting to a more square display cold capture more of the product in a shot.
Own a hashtag
Perhaps most important in your efforts to create a social media buzz is being able to monitor the results. How else are you going to know if the time and energy you’re dedicating is paying off? Come up with a hashtag and promote it around your restaurant—entryway, menus, table tents, receipts and other touch points are all prime real estate. Keep the following in mind when creating a hashtag.
By encouraging guests to use your hashtag when posting, they’re self-sorting their posts directly into a virtual folder that you can open up and monitor whenever you want. This approach to marketing is free and convenient…not a common find.
Then there’s the idea of creating social media contests to promote this marketing effort even further. That, however, is a conversation for another time.
Hatch Yakitori + Bar sits rather humbly on the ground level of The Bloc, an open-air shopping center in the heart of DTLA where patrons are on constant pursuit of the newest novelties in culinary achievement. Hatch delivers on all fronts, treating guests to meticulously fabricated dishes as innovative as they are beautiful, with other-worldly levels of flavor. It’s ‘so LA’ on so many levels, and somehow fits both young partygoers and nearby residents looking for a relaxing meal under one roof.
Hatch is certainly in good hands with Executive Chef and Owner Daniel Shemtob, who made his first national splash when he won the Food Network’s ‘The Great Food Truck Race’ and hasn’t looked back since. He’s joined by co-owners Akarad Tachavatcharapa and Nara Latip, whose collective marketing background birthed the restaurant’s tasteful layout.
At its core, Yakitori is a Japanese type of skewered chicken. Naturally, the foundation of Hatch’s menu is comprised of intricate compilations that somehow find themselves on a stick. Succulent pork belly and ahi tuna, herb-crusted lamb, and an oh-so-good chicken meatballs with an egg yolk and tare dip (you may not be accustomed to raw egg yolk, but will thank yourself for giving it a try) are some of the highlights, along with vegetarian favorites like brussels sprouts and corn grilled with lime butter.
Main plates further showcase Shemtob’s creativity and Hatch’s charcoal theme, like the signature and succulent black karaage (pronounced car-ah-gey)—two-day brined chicken fried in squid ink and served with black ranch dip. Or the aged ribeye and potatoes three ways, with wasabi mashed potatoes so fine that they may as well have passed through a coffee filter. A revolving list of house specials keep consistent with the team’s mastery of locking in flavor and presenting it beautifully, with scallop and king crab dishes that came out as works of art.
Somehow, Shemtob found a way to keep consistent through dessert as well. The simply fabulous grilled brownies topped with black sesame ice cream are an absolute must. Pair anything from the menu with a crafted cocktail—they all pack a punch—or beer or sake on draft.
Hatch Yakitori + Bar is located at 700 W 7th St Suite G600, Los Angeles, CA 90017. Open 5 – 10p Mon, 11:30a – 2:30p and 5 – 10p Tue – Thu, 11:30a – 2:30p and 5 – 11p Fri, 6 – 11 Sat and 6 – 10p Sun. Avg. Out-the-door price for 3 – 4 sticks, 1 plate, split dessert and 1 – 2 drinks is ~$90/person. For more information visit HatchyYakitori.com.
Caló Kitchen + Tequila hosts a distinctive ambiance where the intimacy of a small space meets the energy of modern LA dining. A one-lane walkway separates booths and a packed bar, with servers quite used to backing up or leaning in for patrons to pass in the same way a flight attendant would aboard an aircraft. Upstairs is slightly quieter, with the same artistic lighting calming the air and allowing you to take a breath, even if it’s to just enjoy the view of the shopping mall across the street.
Caló (Spanish for ‘slang’) puts an interesting accent on American Mexican favorites. The menu isn’t miles long like you’ll find in some full-service Mexican establishments, in the same way that the interior isn’t decked out with bright colors or filled with Mariachi music. Instead, Caló integrates a level of elegance in its ingredients to match its ambiance, while remaining both fun and indulgent.
Case in point with the shrimp and bacon tacos, profound in rich flavor and texture made all the better with a valentina cream sauce. Caló’s prime skirt steak nails it as well, bursting with a critical mass of umami that lusciously spills into a homemade tortilla. The carnitas, made with prime kurobuta pork and Mexican coca cola, can be cut with a spoon. And in traditional American Mexican fashion, Caló offers a few combination options that allow patrons to try a bit of everything—the seafood trio and Caló platter, to name a few.
Then, of course, comes the tequila part of the equation. Unsurprisingly, Caló has a meticulously crafted margarita menu, boasting everything from your traditional Cadillac to strawberry jalapeno and watermelon basil. Sadly, blended margaritas aren’t an option here [allegedly the bar doesn’t have room for a blender]. And if fruit pulp isn’t your thing, ask for your drink to be strained beforehand. Caló also boasts a healthy beer and wine list, including an intriguing and ever-so-subtle horchata beer.
Churros are undoubtedly the dessert of choice, filled with a traditional burnt caramel custard and served with chocolate sauce, thick house-made whipped cream and—for a touch of novelty—peanut butter for dipping.
Caló Kitchen + Tequila is located at 2191 Rosecrans Ave, El Segundo, CA 90245. Open 11a – 9p Sun – Thu, 11a – 10p Fri/Sat. Average out-the-door price for split appetizer, entrée, split dessert and 1 – 2 drinks is ~$85/person. For more information call (424) 269 – 2322 or visit CaloKitchen.com.
Benjamin Brown is a seasoned restaurant writer and hospitality consultant, serving up SoCal's hottest food news and reviews.