PhotoBefore social media, it would seem strange -- at least somewhat -- to see someone snapping a photo of their meal before eating it. But nowadays, it’s become common to see someone pick up their phone before they pick up their fork.

Young people, especially, seem to believe that the internet should be apprised of all things, including the fact that they are about to consume a particularly pretty meal. Food-related hashtags rack up millions of posts on Instagram and other social media platforms. But why?

What is driving consumers’ newfound desire to postpone the consumption of a meal in favor of sharing a photo of it? This new social norm carries with it some interesting impacts and implications, according to experts.

Greater satisfaction

Consumer-generated images of food play a big role in marketing, according to Sean Coary, Ph.D., assistant professor of food marketing at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.

“When we take a photo of something before eating, we create a momentary but intentional delay in consumption, allowing all of the senses to be engaged and building the anticipation of enjoyment,” says Coary, who teamed up with Morgan Poor, Ph.D., assistant professor of marketing at the University of San Diego, to study the effects of taking a photo of food prior to eating it.

The team’s research, published recently in the Journal for Consumer Marketing, showed that taking a picture of food prior to consumption leads to greater overall satisfaction. And consquently, more favorable evaluations of the dish -- but only when the dish was considered “indulgent.”

Demonstrates healthy habits

Photographing healthy dishes played a similarly large role in influencing consumer satisfaction. Taking photos of healthy dishes can help people share their healthy motives with their friends and social networks, the researchers said.

“Diners want to remember the visual aesthetic of their food, especially when it’s something indulgent,” said Coary. But they also want to “signal to others that they are part of the ‘fit’ club,” he explains.

When consumers are aware of the healthy eating habits of others, the satisfaction-generating effects of photographic food can be seen.

Marketing implications

Poor says these studies and the ‘amateur food-photographer phenomenon’ they’re centered around have implications for brands and restaurants. She also predicts “this is only the beginning.”

The researchers say more restaurants and brands should embrace the trend and capitalize on their customers’ eagerness to share photos of their product. In a world where 'likes' are currency for consumers, there are advantages to be had for marketers.

“If your food is beautiful and aesthetically pleasing, your customers will want to take a photograph and potentially share it,” said Coary. “Training staff who understand the importance of aesthetics and finding creative ways to take advantage of this free advertising are crucial for both brands and restaurants”

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