How to Make an Instagrammable Café

DropShot

DropShot Coffee & Snack bar is located in the FieldHouse Jones Hotel in Chicago. Photo by Wade McElroy

A lot can change in a decade. In 2009, no one had ever heard of a little thing called Instagram. But on July 16, 2010, the first-ever photo was posted to the platform, and, unbeknownst to the rest of the world, the marketing landscape was forever changed. Today, it’s practically unheard of to find a consumer-facing business that doesn’t have a profile on the photo-sharing platform.

As the second most populated social media platform in the world with one billion monthly active accounts (more than half of those accounts following brands), and as the network users are most likely to use for researching brands and product, Instagram has become an integral tool in any marketer’s belt.

DropShot photos by Wade McElroy

With all those users, though, comes noise. In 2016, 95 million posts were made every day, and that number has likely grown significantly over the following years. Standing out from the crowd and cultivating followers can be a difficult task as tastes and trends evolve daily.

Instagrammability is a characteristic that’s frequently talked about in our industry. A drink can be delicious, but may not Instagrammable due to its straightforward presentation. A café can be homey and welcoming, but may not be Instagrammable due to its outdated design. But what does that term mean—and what’s the value of it? After nearly a decade of Valencia filters, #cafevibes, and Brooklyn aesthetics, let’s assess the platform’s effect on the specialty beverage industry and how to cultivate the ephemeral yet deeply impactful Instagrammable moment.

DropShot photos by Wade McElroy

Social Proof is in the Pudding (That You Posted Last Night)

While knowing the current trends of what has the most likes and followers on Instagram is helpful in understanding your competition and contemporary cultural forces, understanding the underlying behavioral psychology behind why people share information on the internet is far more helpful in crafting an effective, noteworthy social media presence.

Every person behind an account has a reason for liking, sharing, and interacting with posts on social media. A New York Times customer insight report found that there are five reasons why people share on social media:

  • To bring valuable and entertaining content
    to others
  • To define ourselves to others
  • To grow and nourish our relationships
  • To feel more involved in the world
  • To get the word out about causes or brands
The Life Aquatic from Dayglow. Pineapple, creamy coconut, passion fruit, espresso, and bitters.

Snapping a photo and posting to Instagram is simply the new way for people to accomplish a very old desire: to satisfy their need for socialization.

The power in sharing comes when social influence is built. Accounts with tens or hundreds of thousands of followers can have an influence on the actions of their peers using the principles of liking and social proof.

A primary impulse for people is to like those whom they perceive to be similar to themselves. Simply put, we like people like ourselves. Liking leads people to follow accounts of folks they want to associate themselves with in some way.

Social proof amplifies the effect of liking. Social proof is one way that individuals determine appropriate behavior for themselves in a situation by examining the behavior of others, especially similar others.

Drink pics by Dayglow

According to marketing and leadership expert Seth Godin, “For most of us, from the first day we are able to remember until the last day we breathe, our actions are primarily driven by one question, ‘Do people like me do things like this?’”

Having people share your brand for you on social media cultivates trust and social proof in your brand. Once seeing a post from one of their friends, or an influencer whom they aspire to be like, a person is more likely to see that activity as something they want to participate in.

Worthy of Sharing

Creating imagery— whether it’s a mural, special menu item, or overall design aesthetic — that people feel is worthy of sharing with their friends, that speaks to how they see themselves, and is eye-catching, is what Instagrammability is all about.

“I think that’s the thing that just kind of drives people to take out their phones,” says Maura Davis, general manager of the FieldHouse Jones hotel in Chicago. “It’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, I would never expect this. I want to share this with my friends.’”

DropShot is a café located in FieldHouse Jones that features a feast of unexpected imagery. From a spiraling art installation of tennis rackets that weave throughout the space to two massive slot car racing tracks and a wall overflowing with antique board and lawn games, unexpected visual elements can be discovered around every corner.

Spiraling tennis rackets at DropShot. Photo by Wade McElroy

“Even the murals inside the building, they get Instagrammed five, six, seven times a day from all of our hotel guests,” says Davis. “And you’re just reaching a much broader crowd.”

In Nashville, Tennessee, Stay Golden Coffee Co.’s two bright, airy, and sleek-yet-fun locations have become a photogenic destination for locals and tourists alike.

Stay Golden partner and director of hospitality Jamie Cunningham explains how Stay Golden’s signature look came not from chasing trends or directly trying to make an Instagrammable space, but by first thinking of how he and his partners wanted customers to feel.

Stay Golden Coffee Co. in Nashville.

“We like beautiful things and obviously that means Instagrammable in some sense when it’s beautiful,” he says. “The overall design of our spaces came down to culture first. So a culture of our business is to be open and inviting. As an example, our eastside location, we filled that space with as few walls as possible….Our intent, if we could have, we would have made it to where when you walked in the door you could see the whole space from front to back. We want things to be open and transparent and to be inviting. See what the kitchen’s doing, that’s really, really fun for a lot of people.”

Stay Golden

By putting culture and hospitality as top priority, the Stay Golden crew created a space that first feels naturally welcoming to customers walking through the door, making it an experience that guests want to share with their friends.

The light walls, pops of color, and lack of barriers not only create a sense of lighthearted transparency and openness, but also do double duty by allowing natural sunlight to flood the space, making it an Instagrammer’s dream photo location. It’s no coincidence that the Stay Golden tagged feed is filled with well-lit shots of signature drinks, menu items, and the space itself.

Stay Golden

Everything—from the chic yet minimally presented beverages and marble tabletop backgrounds to the beautifully lush indoor plants and impeccable lighting—makes it easy for folks to take a beautiful photo worth sharing.

Building a Business on the ‘Gram

Tracking the actual impact of Instagram on your business can be difficult. Posting pictures out into the void and tracking followers can sometimes seem like a time-consuming task without reward, but there can be tangible real-world benefits from the digital community.

Tohm Ifergan decided that he wanted a different kind of account to set his café and coffee subscription service, Dayglow, apart. He thought that highly stylized product photography would be a way to distinguish his brand from other companies.

Dayglow in Los Angeles

“I wanted to do something that essentially put more focus on the products that we’re selling. And in this case, the coffees themselves,” explains Ifergan. “Our brand is built around a holographic foil [that’s] essentially our color. We use that element in our social media, switching off different colors every couple of weeks and try to highlight or accent certain elements of the drinks that we’re selling or the coffees that are selling that month.”

As a result of this method, Ifergan, with photographer Kingston of Vacant House, creates a series of monochromatic images that feature a single product or coffee in front of a brightly colored background.

Butterfly pea cappuccino. Photo courtesy of Dayglow

“That’s actually another reason why our palette really works, because there’s a lot of contrast and so much color fills the space. So when you’re scrolling it really pops,” says Ifergan. “‘Instagrammable,’ to me, means anything that is eye-catching in less than seconds.”

Creating the unique images is certainly an investment in both time and finances. Dayglow spends roughly 10% of its revenue on marketing and an entire day each month is spent in the café’s parking lot getting the candy-colored images, not to mention the time taken to edit them as well. Ifergan reports that the efforts pay off though: Roughly one in three customers on any given day say they discovered Dayglow through Instagram, and the platform has allowed the company to build a global following.

“We had numerous people from like Russia or Europe or Australia reach out to us or become fans of us because of [Instagram],” says Ifergan. “Being just a coffee shop in a small neighborhood in Los Angeles….It’s been really cool to connect with people in different ways and it’s definitely helped us. A lot of roasters want to work with us because most of our photography is all about that and the coffees that we sell. So a lot of the people that we work with have definitely seen the rewards of our marketing approach. Which is really cool because obviously we’re in it as little guys trying to support other little guys. I think we’re all growing together as a community and it’s really fun.”

Signature drink from Dayglow.

Insta Implementation

While it seems as though Instagram has changed café culture, changed the way spaces look, and changed the way people interact in cafés, it’s an evolution of why people have always come to coffee shops and teahouses—not simply for a caffeine fix, but also to interact with people in their community. Beautiful and unexpected visuals are cause for people to share their experience not only with a friend or two, but their entire digital tribe.

Cafés offer ample opportunities to infuse Instagrammability into their businesses. Before a patron even enters a shop, an outdoor mural, sculpture, or even unexpected paint color could become the perfect photo op for passersby. Inside, everything from the walls, ceilings, tables, bar top, chairs, floor, equipment, to even the napkin holders are all a blank canvas for owners to create their own brand of Instagrammability.

Then there’s the product served. Thoughtful presentation of food and beverage, or a beautiful bag of roasted beans to take home, can be another chance for customers to feel connected to a company and want to share that moment.

Tasty looking spread at Stay Golden

Stepping back and even innovating the way a café promotes itself on the platform through different photography styles can be a smart, differentiating marketing move.

Knowing what culture you want to create for customers and having the courage to execute an amazing vision that cultivates a certain feeling or experience is key to developing a space that people want to be in and share with their followers.

Jamie Cunningham of Stay Golden succinctly explains the key to Instagrammability, “It’s ultimately about connection with your audience.”