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Should we all become food photographers?  Splento’s in-depth menu creation research - and the ‘take-aways’ we came away with

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If you have a restaurant that has so far survived 2020, then you’ve probably experienced unexpected pivoting and attracting orders from within the home.

Until recently you perhaps didn’t take food delivery too seriously. Yes, it was a nice add-on, but not an integral part of your business plan.

Until now.

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, many restaurants and food delivery companies have come to realise that they have been handed an unprecedented opportunity – millions of people stuck at home, missing their favourite restaurants!

With every opportunity, of course, comes challenge, and for a restaurant becoming a delivery service, one of the big ones is attracting orders through delivery platforms. 

Photos become a visual representation for hungry buyers – those little pictures suddenly become a big deal.

Seeing the big picture, Splento recently undertook a course of independent research about restaurant needs, conducting a series of one-on-one in-depth interviews and user testing sessions in multiple countries across both Europe and the USA.

Table of food dishes

Our starter – identifying the problems

The purpose was to understand the needs, successes – and failings – in the current systems of menu photography – for food delivery services, websites and social media purposes.

We started with 50 in-depth interviews in the UK, but then expanded our research worldwide and are on course to complete 500 interviews in Q1 2021.

In the extensive survey, we asked the restaurants and other food businesses how they currently manage their photography for their own delivery, for the delivery platforms (if they used them) and for their social media accounts and websites.

We aimed to understand the decision-making process of the business owners when it came to food photography and the multiple difficulties it presented.

Also, our purpose was to identify new solutions to address these challenges – solutions that not only work but work to the advantage of the restaurant – with particular emphasis on photo upload and subsequent menu changes.

As you will see in a moment, these factors (and a few others) represent a large frustration for many food businesses and chefs – and may well reflect your own experience up to this point.

 

Finding a solution to these issues would be a game-changer for any restaurant.

 

We also asked about the restaurant staff’s backgrounds and their experience of photography, the key drivers for photo upload, how the pictures are usually taken and how often.

We discussed with them their experience of the existing upload process, either to a food delivery platform or even their own website, their understanding of food platform guidelines and their experience in communicating with these companies.

 

Our main course – the results of the interviews

We spoke to both small independents (71% of the group) as well as large ones from restaurant chains (29%).

Of these, 28% had their own delivery service.

We found that a full 90% of them are on multiple platforms. The general trend is to have as many delivery options as possible – use their own delivery service and also be available on local platforms.

We wanted to understand who was responsible for the production and quality of the menu photos, why they were needed and when. Almost everyone said they needed to upload a completely new collection of images every time there was a menu launch.

From everyone we interviewed, 72% needed to upload single menu items and/or seasonal specials. One of the biggest complaints with this was the speed of communication with the delivery service when uploading new menu item photos, as often time is crucial.Food Infographics 1A majority of the small restaurant owners were responsible themselves for sending photos and new menu items to the delivery platforms; around 20% of all the restaurants interviewed had tried (at least once) to work with a social media manager or agency – mostly due to ownership risks and limited budgets.

For photoshoots, 70% used a professional photographer (whilst complaining loudly about the cost) and the other 30% did it themselves using a digital camera or iPhone.

Varying levels of confidence were admitted, regarding self-taken photos and the ability to resolve issues. 30% of the participants felt able to resolve basic issues (such as size, format and resolution).

The main problems were identified as:

    • The challenges of following the guidelines
    • The ability to take a good enough quality photo
    • Not having clear examples to follow

78% said they wanted and would benefit from great examples to follow and/or guidelines for photo composition but didn’t know where to get them from. (Often, professionals use mood boards, or Pinterest and other sources, for inspiration. The average restaurant owner or chef, however, struggles to find relevant sources or great examples online).

 

“I keep checking the guidelines, but I still sometimes get photos rejected.”

 

One respondent put it like this “I would love to just have a template or an example photo that I can easily replicate. There are many platform guidelines, and I can’t remember them all, so I have to keep going back and re-reading them. I keep checking the guidelines, but I still sometimes get photos rejected.”

 

For those using mobiles to take their photos, the challenges were mostly composition guidance, lighting and editing support.

 

More on this later – but just to note that at this stage – we began testing with them our Splento app (see below). As it turned out, their main complaints were spot on – chefs and restaurant staff were able to produce better images just by having relevant examples to follow, and an easy to follow guide.

82% of testers reported they could create “significantly better” photos with appropriate visual hints and layouts. The app also allows for easy resizing, retouching and renaming – all but guaranteeing photo approval.

 

The most common complaints

A large number of smaller restaurants complained about the costs of professional images. “I’m just not in a position to be able to spend that much on a professional photographer,” said one respondent.

On the other hand, 75% of the larger establishments, and the chains, appreciated the importance of high-quality images and the impact they have on their delivery service success.

 

“Quality is key – for a customer, the quality of the photo is the quality of the food. There is an obvious connection between the quality of the image and the number of orders we generate. Quality is not an optional extra – it’s an investment that pays dividends”

 

For the larger restaurants, the problems are the quality of the final images and the time it takes to arrange the photoshoot. Delays in shooting or image approval can be crucial when you are launching a new menu or a range of specials.

Overall, more than half of the participants we spoke to (52%) had experienced problems (at least once) with the time it took to complete the photo process, including taking the images, approval (or rejection) by the platform and any feedback.

On more than one occasion, they reported not bothering to photograph and upload seasonal specials, as, by the time the platform listed them, it would be too late. 

What they wanted, they said, was to know in advance when the photos would be published, and to have certainty that they would not be rejected.

This translates into saved time and, more importantly, saved money and increased orders.

“All the time there are no photos uploaded, I’m losing money,” said one restaurateur. 

He added “Hiring a professional photographer costs money – and doing it myself takes time, but I’m busy running my restaurant. More than once, the photography has been forgotten until the very end, when we are launching, and then it’s a mad scramble and delayed uploads”.

Food Infographics 2

One restaurant owner even told us that “My chef is a stickler for detail – he wants to know that every photo is perfect, as it affects how many orders he gets”.

This is, in fact, a common response among many of the people we spoke to. The quality of the image impacts the number of orders.

A large number of respondents wanted a simpler process for taking and uploading images – as long as quality was not compromised. If they had this, they would use more photos and upload more frequently – some even daily.

Another common trait was that the published guidelines for many platforms seemed to be too complicated – to the extent that some had just given up and started paying a professional. 50% had tried taking their own images and had got either full rejection or at least one photo not accepted – and had then booked a professional photographer “…just to get the job done”.

“In the end, I bit the bullet and paid for a professional,” said one “I tried doing it myself, but all the images got rejected, because of either the editing, format or background. On that occasion, I ran out of time. If I could, I’d prefer to do it myself”.

We also discovered that in some countries, the food delivery companies would arrange for free professional photography – but the restaurants were often left waiting for the photos to be uploaded, with no indication of when this would happen, and that affected their business in the meantime.

 

The pudding – solution to the problems

Based on this and our ongoing research and restaurant interviews around the world, Splento is working on a mobile (app) solution that will reduce food photography costs by up to 90%. 

This AI-powered solution offers in-app examples, composition and shot guidelines, hints and a host of other features to turn any restaurateur into a professional food photographer.

 

Introducing Splento’s Food Photography App:

1,000 dishes with examples, hints and best practice guides.

The Professional Photographer in your Pocket.

Photo of Splento Food Photography App screen
Just some of the features:

    • A.I. powered examples, hints and guides get you shooting like a pro
    • Easy naming and photo resizing
    • Easy and quick photo approval
    • Flexible menu updates (even in the most remote locations)
    • Professional photo retouch (if required)

Our Food Photo App enables restaurants to upload unlimited images of dishes, whenever they want, with zero food waste and from anywhere – even in remote locations with no professional photographers.


Paraphrasing Nike’s motto – Splento’s Food Photography App’s mission is simple: 

To bring inspiration and innovation to every photographer* in the world.

*If you have a smartphone, you are a photographer.

Contact Splento today for your free access ➡️➡️➡️

 

 


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