Are Food Images Really Important on your Online Menu?

Ever heard the old adage “You eat first with your eyes”? This concept holds true no matter if we are reviewing the options at a buffet, skimming through a cookbook for dinner ideas, or browsing the choices on our favorite restaurant’s online menu.

A Feast for the Eyes

Since the visual element has such a powerful impact on food choice — from if a customer should order to what they should order — we strongly recommend adding pictures to your menu items in order to both attract and retain customer interest. Pictures (along with a well-written description) will also help curb customer guess work and uncertainty with certain food items, thereby increasing their confidence in the choices they’ve made (especially if they’re a first-timer to your establishment).

Taking Pictures for your Menu

Taking food pics can be a daunting task, especially when you look at the work of veteran professional food photographers. You don’t need to be a pro, though, and you certainly don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on equipment or a studio to capture the essence of your best dishes. We’ve compiled some of our knowledge of the food and restaurant industry with some of the customer experiences we have had (both good and bad) in order to provide you with some basic tips on how to take great shots of your menu items.

1. Up Close and Personal

Make sure that you’re not taking pictures from 6 feet away. A majority of the image should be taken up by the food itself (including the plating). Your customers should be able to look at the image and see the detail of the “lesser” components of the dish, not just the main parts.

2. Background Check

It’s really important to show consistency in the shots you take. The background used with your images will, in a way, be part of your brand. It is important that it is clean and also that there is consistency either by using the same backdrop and plating each time or a similar overall theme. If you don’t have a good place to take pictures background-wise, you can find several online resources for creating plain backdrops for food photography at little or no cost.

3. Look at it from a Not-So-Different Angle

Also in the way of consistency, you should find an angle that works best for you and stick with it for all your shots. If you’ve posted pictures of your sub sandwiches from the top looking down, straight ahead, diagonally, standing upright, and laying on their side, it can create a sense of confusion and overwhelm with the customer. Plus, it just looks bad.

And speaking of angles, it’s also important to capture all elements of a dish. If you have a specialty bacon cheeseburger that knocks customers’ socks off, it might be a good idea to cut it in half to show them just how bacony, cheesy, juicy and delicious it is. Another good example is a layer cake; you may sell them by the whole, but taking a picture of only the whole cake itself won’t do it justice. You’re going to want to show your customers what’s going on under the surface.

4. Steady as She Goes

Most of us just can’t rely on our own hands to stay as steady as we need them to for more than a couple seconds. Because of this, pictures often come out blurry (even if it’s only just a little bit), which is something you don’t want to settle for when it comes to images your customers are going to see. Luckily, there are endless options as far as tripods go, and for pretty cheap. Even if you’re using an iPhone or Android to take your pictures, there are all sorts of options, and most of them are even compact (like, toss-it-in-your-desk-drawer-after-you’re-done compact). We highly recommend going the tripod route if you have the means. A tripod + your camera/phone’s self-timer = a winning combination.

5. A Beacon of Light

Above all else: turn off the flash. Unless you’re using a camera with a third-party flash that is customized specifically for this kind of photography, it’s going to do more harm than good (and by this, I mean it’s going to do all harm, and no good). Flashes will negatively impact the coloring, giving both the food and the background a bluish/grayish hue that not only makes the dish look unappetizing, but will take away any warmth that the image would otherwise have.

Instead, use any natural light that is available. If you don’t have natural light coming from a window, for instance, you can “manufacture” your own natural light with a lamp and the right bulb (this ties in with the self-made backdrops mentioned earlier).

Also, if it’s an option, use a wide aperture setting on your device. Without going too deep into how it all works, a wider aperture collects the most light, which is what you want when it comes to taking food pics.

Your food is great, so don’t shortchange yourself, your restaurant, or your offerings by advertising it with low-quality pictures. Don’t just tell your customers how delicious your food is; show them!