Running an Instagrammable venue

04 September, 2018 by
Annabelle Cloros

Opening a venue in Australia is a hard slog for your everyday operator who may not boast celebrity chef status.

Building hype around your venue is essential in a challenging marketplace, and there are so many factors to consider during the launch phase.

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As much as food is make or break, attracting customers is the first step to getting them into your venue — and what better way than creating an environment that’s not only photogenic, but one customers will travel far and wide to experience?

Sydney venues Baby Coffee Co. in Waterloo and The Botanica in Vaucluse are two social media-savvy restaurants that put a lot of thought into making their food and venue Gram-worthy from the get go.

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Alessandro Panetta and Evette Moran discuss the benefits social media has brought to their businesses, why you don’t need to spend big and how they ensure the food looks just as good as the venue.

LAUNCHING PAD

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Research from TripAdvisor reveals social media has become the most commonly used form of marketing for venues. In line with hospitality venues ramping up their online presence, Intermedia’s Eating Out Report found Australian customers rely on social media channels to not only find new places to eat and drink at, but learn more about the brand they’re potentially giving their hard-earned cash to.

Creating social media accounts is simple enough, but utilising the self-promotional platforms is a valuable tool operators can take advantage of before and after opening a venue.

Baby Coffee Co. has become widely known in Sydney as ‘the millennial pink café’ or the ‘one with the neon sign’.

Co-owner Alessandro Panetta worked closely with an interior designer and a brand consultant during the launch process where the brand’s social media presence was front of mind.

“Social media has really become the way people talk about their dining experiences,” says Panetta. “I find out about places on Instagram from my friends. People don’t ring their friends and describe a dish — it’s just about taking a photo.”

Evette Moran from The Botanica Vaucluse wanted to capture the venue’s surrounding environment and create a space that attracted a wide range of diners. “We wanted to create something really Instagrammable that appealed to everyone,” she says. “People will stay for the food, but you have to get them there first. We knew it would attract and hook people the prettier we made it.”

Creating a beautiful environment was important due to the restaurant’s location, which is essentially hidden and is without street presence. “People having to walk up the stairs and discover us is a small barrier,” says The Botanica Vaucluse’s chef Perry Hill. “If you’re a small restaurant tucked away, you have to reach out to people.”

TALKING POINTS

Australia is full of venues that are aesthetically pleasing, and there’s no shortage of beautiful dining rooms filled with Danish furniture and minimal prints. Creating a focal point that distinguishes your venue from the rest is a major drawcard for consumers who don’t want to miss a photo opp.

At Baby Coffee Co., there are two signature attractions — the neon sign and the velvet pink chairs. “People will first know about it because of the cool neon sign and will come and check it out because they’ve seen it online, but you have to work hard to ensure the service and product is there so they will return,” says Panetta.

Baby Coffee Co.’s colour palette isn’t just reserved for the chairs and extends to their logo, menus, take-away coffee cups and merchandise, which are all awash with millennial pink, adding continuity and weight to the customer experience.

At The Botanica Vaucluse, there’s no shortage of spaces for diners to capture, with custom carpet, Ottoman Empire mirror, indoor plants and a botanical mural that all make it hard not to take a photo. In fact, it’s a rarity when a customer doesn’t reach for their phone. “The more beautiful a place is, the more people want to document their attendance,” says Hill.

The restaurant is also surrounded by a lush garden, which served as inspiration for the design. “I wanted to create a space that was very comfortable with a sense of whimsy,” says Moran. “I wanted to have carpet to keep the noise levels down and create beauty as well. We decided on a mural which brings the outside in.”

LIVING UP TO THE HYPE

Consumers have high expectations when they see a venue that’s visually appealing, and naturally assume the food will be just as good as the dining environment. When creating a ‘pretty’ venue, it’s important to think about how your food offering fits in with the brand’s overarching message along with considering the value of repeat customers. If the service and menu falls short, customers are unlikely to return.

“It’s all about brand and what people expect,” says Panetta. “So if you are putting out a certain style and image online, you need to live up to expectations. People already have preconceived notions of what the food and space will look like and you need to live up to the food you served yesterday — it’s about consistency.

“We stress to our team and guests that we don’t just want to create pretty food, it has to be tasty,” Panetta continues. “While having a pretty plated dish and having a venue that translates in photos is important, it’s still about great food and a quality experience, otherwise you won’t have a sustainable business.”

As a chef, the notion of people taking photos of their food is still a novelty to Hill and the kitchen team, but one they nonetheless appreciate. “People are sharing their stories and photos with their friends, so it certainly has a lot of benefits and risks because everything has to taste and look amazing,” he says. “I’m very apprehensive about putting flowers on plates just to make things look pretty — it’s not about that for us. We just want to have fantastic food.”

BIG SPENDER

When designing or refitting a space, it’s easy to get carried away and deviate from your initial budget. Panetta says it’s about being smart with your money and putting in time to achieve the desired result.

“We are three young guys that own the place together, so we didn’t have a huge budget,” he says. “We knew what we wanted and went with a certain colour palette — I don’t think it was that much more expensive than other options. It’s about being smart and having a style that you’re going for and making sure everything you do design-wise goes towards achieving a certain result without compromising the functional features and flow of the space. As a restaurant, you need functionality over everything.”

Moran decided to go all out with the interior of The Botanica Vaucluse, and is accepting of the reality that a return on investment is a few years off. “To make money off a restaurant is a headache,” she says. “When I do something, I want to do it right, and eventually we will get that money back — but I wouldn’t be saying ‘run out and do a huge refurb’ because they are really expensive.”

There’s an important lesson when it comes to designing venues that make a splash on social media — the food and service experience must be equally as good — ideally better — than the fitout of the space. Establish a vision and stick to it, and you’ll be well on your way to running an Insta-worthy venue.

This article originally appeared in Hospitality‘s August issue. Subscribe here.