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The Pandemic Made Instagram an Essential Tool for Restaurants

From the Editor: Everything you missed in food news last week

A white plate with green leafy lettuce, pickled strips of carrot and onion, and a fried pancake stuffed with shrimp, pork, and vegetables. A white cup of fish sauce for dipping is set off to the lower right side. The plates are set on a light wooden table.
Banh xeo from pop-up-turned-brick-and-mortar Bánh Vietnamese Shop House
Rachel Vanni/Eater

This post originally appeared on January 30, 2020 in Amanda Kludt’s newsletter “From the Editor,” a roundup of the most vital news and stories in the food world each week. Read the archives and subscribe now.

I find myself on Instagram more than ever these days. Not because I’m scrolling through friends’ kid photos or getting FOMO glimpsing everyone’s takeout or illicit trips or vaccine snaps. Instead I’m obsessively looking at restaurant tag pages, researching their outdoor dining setups and taking notes on a personal spreadsheet.

I’ve continued outdoor dining through the winter, and while I rely heavily on Eater recommendations and get tips from friends, it’s kind of hard to assess a restaurant’s alfresco environment without photos. Is it a sidewalk of yurts and greenhouses or one of those three-sided sheds? Did they just build the inside outside? Are tables spaced? What’s the heater scenario? Are they serving on proper plates and with real glassware, or is this a takeout-box scenario?

These details are incredibly important and practically impossible to glean without an in-person visit, and I often have to scroll through Instagram’s location page, which is populated mostly by diners’ photos, to find what I’m looking for.

Relatedly, this week Becky Duffett covered just how important the platform has become as a marketing tool for brick-and-mortar restaurants doing takeout and as a lifeline for newly created pop-up businesses that market their menus and communicate with customers over Insta. And I loved Tejal Rao’s piece about how she now has calendar alerts “for more than 50 menu drops on Instagram, and notifications set for new posts on about 100 accounts.”

What used to feel to me like a haven for performative consumption and envy-inducing posts has evolved into a place where I can research and discover and interact with creative food folks selling frozen dumplings, foccacia squares, and coveted cookie boxes. And what used to seem like a perhaps silly but necessary promotional outlet for traditional restaurants is now one of the best tools in the arsenal for connecting with customers stuck at home.

On Eater

Carbone’s opulent pandemic offering
Giovanny Gutierrez/Chat Chow TV

— As Californians emerged from a stay-at-home order, outdoor dining returned in LA, San Diego, SF, and elsewhere. Meanwhile, New York’s indoor dining will return on Valentine’s Day.

— What the Raise Act, the proposed legislation pushing for an eventual $15 federal minimum wage, would mean if passed.

— Michelin continues to award and take away stars this week, announcing its Paris and London lists.

— D.C. is considering loosening open-container laws, but only in major developments and you can’t BYO.

— The owners of high-end and once-exclusive restaurant Carbone just opened their fourth location in the former Upland space in Miami. And the opening chefs behind white-hot D.C. restaurant Bad Saint just opened Pogiboy, a Filipino food stall stand inspired by Jollibee and Bob’s Big Boy.

— Here’s one I haven’t seen before. In Michigan, the advocates behind One Fair Wage are teaming up with the state to offer relief to restaurants on the condition that they commit to giving away free meals (one for every $10 granted in funding) and eliminating the tipped wage in their restaurant within five years.

Great British Bake Off will launch a celebrity edition with James McAvoy and others, and I am HERE for it.

White gloved hands pull apart cooked pork for tacos.
Suckling pig from Los Sabrosos al Horno in LA
Wonho Frank Lee

Chicago chef Phillip Foss on the damage third-party delivery apps are doing to the restaurant industry and what operators like him have to do to fight back.

— By the numbers: How much a Detroit food hall spent pivoting, and pivoting again, during the pandemic.

— Hotels are turning their rooms into private dining rooms and their kitchens into ghost kitchen operations.

— As is the case in much of America right now, birria de res tacos are taking Austin by storm (but with brisket).

— Meanwhile, in LA, everyone is excited about what may be the only puerquito echado stand in the U.S.

— I 1000 percent do not understand the appeal of beer flavored with Hot Cheetos or brownies or pickles, but I’m happy it helped this Dallas brewery stay alive through the pandemic.

— The guy from SF’s Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters is now my favorite person on TikTok.

Off Eater