You’re out with friends for dinner at a nice place. The server comes by and delivers all of the meals, each one expertly plated and begging to be consumed. But instead of picking up your forks to dig in, everyone grabs for their smartphones to snap and post the perfect picture of their pristine plate. It’s almost like the meal didn’t happen if there’s not an Instagram to prove it.
Posting food pics is not a new phenomenon, but there’s new research that may show why we love to do it: it makes the food taste better. That’s right: in a study just published in the Journal of Consumer Marketing, researchers found that when diners take a moment to photograph their meal before eating, it “increases attitudes and taste evaluations of the experience when consumption actually takes place.” Perhaps most interesting, consumers who took photos of foods they perceived to be healthier before eating them rated those foods higher than consumers who didn’t take a photo.
Why is this? It probably has less to do with the photo itself than the time it takes to capture it. Numerous studies have shown that the act of delaying, even for a brief moment, leads to more positive perception of that meal. The implication, too, that photographing healthier foods might make us think more highly of them is interesting: how might teens approach a plate of veggies differently if asked to first post an artful photo of it on Instagram?
Now, that said, there are certainly times to switch our phones to vibrate, put them in our pockets or in another room, and just enjoy the people we’re with. Most of us kind of know this in our gut: a 2013 survey found that 76 percent of Americans think phones at the table are inappropriate.
What’s more, some restaurants hate the trend of constantly pulling out technology during a meal and will go to surprising lengths to get us to put them away—asking customers to stow phones in a box during the meal or offering deep discounts for those who can unplug. One Georgia Chick-fil-A restaurant challenged its customers to keep their phones in a “Cell Phone Coop” on the table throughout the meal. If they can successfully leave it there, they’ll get a free ice cream.
But given that we tend to like our food more when we photograph it first—not to mention the free advertising social media posts give restaurants—the Consumer Marketing study’s authors recommend that restaurant marketing managers encourage the practice.
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