How Toronto Instagrammers are changing the city's food game
Toronto's Ryan Hinkson started his food-focused Instagram account between two-and-a-half and three years ago. Today, @eatfamous has approximately 240,000 followers and Hinkson's seriously considering leaving his full-time job.
Hinkson's among a group of local Instagram elites, or food influencers, who, as he says, are seriously shaping the way Toronto eats. But along with that, these social media gurus are becoming entrepreneurs by getting their followers hungry and sharing pictures of food.
He thinks diners, especially younger ones, can trust Instagrammers more easily than traditional restaurant critics. “I think we talk about it [food] in a way that is a lot more understandable and there’s a broader kind of reach. I feel like it’s accessible to people," he says, noting how his account features all kinds of food, including lots of affordable options.
Danielle Finestone, who runs @tofoodies, just left her gig in the music industry to run her Instagram account and blog full time. While she does some consulting work on the side, she's growing the ToFoodies - a media outlet she created herself - and plans to expand via videos and merchandise in 2017.
“If you had told me when I started it that in two years I’d be quitting my full time job, I’m not certain I would believe you," she says. "But that’s where we are now.”
With nearly 63,000 followers, she gets invited to plenty of events and tastings.While these often resemble cocktail parties, she notes some are now starting to make it easier for Instagrammers to shoot food by adding special lighting features, for instance.
“I’ve also seen, I don’t do this, but some people will take a plate and walk it over to a lit room and put it on the floor," she says. "And to me, that’s like a bit excessive. I’d rather eat it while it’s warm and not put it on the floor.”
For Krystle Ng-A-Mann, who runs @dineandfash, it's sometimes tough to balance blogging with her career as a corporate lawyer. She's been practising law for nearly nine years, but is about one year into blogging and Instagramming in earnest.
She'll sometimes write before work and spends her weekends gathering content for her account, oftentimes at brunch. "Brunch is such a great meal to go out for because you can go out on the weekend, you can collect content that you’re able to use or roll out on your account over several weeks or sometimes months," she says.
On Instagram, she says, it's important to connect with others both online and in real life - Toronto's food Instagrammers all see each other at the same events and many go out to eat together. Ng-A-Mann says it can make things easier.
"It just takes a little bit of time to organize and style the table the way that you want it to look," she says. "And sometimes it requires standing up on chairs or getting higher angles so you can get good shots of the food. But when you go out with other food bloggers, we all understand."
Many food bloggers and Instagrammers, including the ones interviewed here, make money via their channels thanks to sponsored posts. And beyond the big brands, which often pay for posts, restaurants recognize the value of Instagrammers too.
As the National Post wrote this summer, restaurants across Toronto and North America use the platform to drive diners into their establishments.
Laura Fracassi, a senior associate at public relations company Sussex Strategy, works with restaurants to help market their businesses. And she sees Instragram as a valuable platform for them. Since it's highly visual, it encourages engagement - through engagement she can track measureable results for her clients.
“I saw a quote one time that said, 'Millennials don’t want to eat food that they can’t take a picture of,'" she says. "And it’s so true. That’s what we’re driven by. The whole food experience is digital and social.”
She recently helped launch Baro, the already popular South American eatery on King Street West and hen she was deciding whom to invite to restaurant's media launch, she included a mix of both reporters Instagram bloggers, who shhe thinks play an important role in restaurant marketing and sites @feedmetoronto as an example.
"They’re incredibly important to Baro because they have a captive audience, an audience that is uniquely interested in what he’s doing and what he has to say."
Hinkson knows that too. Along with running his account, he's getting even more work as a consultant and marketing rep for a number of restaurants because, clearly, people eat with their phones first.
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