The business of designing a restaurant for Instagram

Sep 7, 2017

If you've walked into a restaurant recently and thought it felt like stepping into a photograph, it was probably intentional. Restaurant design is ever-evolving, and these days, it's inspired by Instagram. Accent walls, neon, hip wallpaper and marble tabletops — they're all hallmarks of design meant to serve as a backdrop. Proprietors are hoping to drive traffic on social media, and from there, straight into their shops. 

That's certainly the case at Pearl's Finest Teas in Los Angeles. Owners Dennis Calvero, Robert Panlilio and Francis Miranda designed their cafe to go viral. Inside the small shop, one long wall is painted millennial pink, with dark green banana leaves. It serves as the backdrop for thousands of selfies — customers visit just to take a photo of themselves, or a photo of their arm, extended, holding a cup of iced tea. 

Instagram is a huge asset for Pearl's. "It's basically like free marketing," Miranda said, "if you're not using this tool, then I'm sorry, you shouldn't be doing business in this day and age."

Miranda estimates that 30 to 40 percent of their business comes from people who catch a glimpse of the cafe on social media. The rest, he attributes to location — the shop is located on a popular shopping street, and is across the street from a large high school.

The drinks themselves are also designed to photograph well. Pearl's best-selling drink, the orange yuzu, seems designed for social media — it has an ombre gradient that turns from an orange (the yuzu juice) to vibrant purple (hibiscus tea).

Whether or not they came explicitly because of Instagram, many customers end up snapping a picture. Scroll through the cafe's geotag on the app and you'll see a steady stream of photos of the banana leaf wall, the shop's bright neon signage, and shots of Pearl's signature teas on marble tabletops or against the backdrop of a mid-century inspired barista counter. 

Miranda says that the real-time flow of Instagram has a significance beyond what Yelp or Google can offer. "With social media, if you geotag something, you can see it five minutes out," he said, "we were basically trying to drive traffic."

According to Dennis Calvero, it's working. "It's bringing more business," he said, "it's the new word of mouth, but visually."