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The other night I went to a new Manhattan restaurant, Heartwood. I’m trying to eat more healthfully and steer clear of carbs and meat. So what did I order? “When Peter Luger Goes Out for Pizza,” a pie with a serious amount of braised short ribs and creamed spinach on top. I knew it would make a sensational picture for my Instagram feed.
Will we see more food designed for maximum Instagram effect instead of flavor? A new machine in development, #dinnercam, has me wondering if this is the future. It’s a tabletop photo booth. Surely, if that contraption shows up in a dining room, customers would want to order the most photogenic dishes instead of the most delicious ones, in the way that a smart but not striking girl might get eclipsed by a Victoria’s Secret model. Likewise, when you scroll through the comments of an over-the-top Instagram picture, it seems like a million people are about to descend on a restaurant for that burger, or that short rib–topped pizza. How can a place help but respond to that kind of demand?
After polling a few chefs, I’ve decided that while Instagram comments might suggest a restaurant will be overrun with diners seeking one oft-shot dish, it doesn’t usually happen. And even if it does, most cooks don’t care. At NYC’s Barbuto, which has one of the more compelling food feeds, general manager Jen Davidson says that people do order by showing an Instagram picture. “But sometimes the dish is already gone,” she says, noting that chef Jonathan Waxman doesn’t make extra portions just because something is popular on social media. At Toro, Jamie Bissonnette takes a picture of a dish when he’s working on it. “Sometimes it’s not pretty, but if it’s delicious, it goes on the menu,” he says.
As for me, I’m trying to curb my Instagram-centric tendencies. The Peter Luger pizza was good. But the not-so-photogenic “Casino Pie” was better.