Fast-casual restaurants increasingly attempt to appeal to social media influencers by way of aesthetics in their design, branding, and social media posts. But when it comes to that last part, it seems that brands have started to assume that the best way to connect with a young, perpetually logged on audience is to sexualize everything. Several Instagram-pandering NYC restaurants have turned to posting very suggestive photos that have little to do with the food they serve.
An early pioneer in this trend, By Chloe, has such an intensely curated Instagram presence that posts will follow a specific color scheme for a chunk of time, yielding a very visually unified feed. It is, admittedly, very pleasing to the eye.
But look a little closer, and the details are a bit more disturbed. Examples of posts include one of a naked woman inside of a piece of buttered toast, close-up of women’s mouths biting suggestively into figs and cherries, a macraméd eggplant that suggest bondage, and a nearly naked Meryl Streep resting atop a bed of french fries, borrowed from the viral Instagram account @tasteofstreep. It’s unclear what any of this is meant to signify, and a representative for By Chloe was unavailable for commenting on these absurdly sexual posts.
The fast-casual reboot of Village Den, backed by Queer Eye food guy Antoni Porowski, similarly has a very sexual feed, from the subtle — like a suggestive cantaloupe photo — to the not-so-subtle, like a photo of pierced citrus accompanied by the caption “just the nip.” Reps for this restaurant, too, did not return a request for comment on the overt imagery.
But perhaps the most egregious — and least coy — offender of all is the new FiDi fast-casual pasta shop the Pastagram which, yes, literally named itself after Instagram. The kind of content they’re spewing out online includes a very phallic firehouse hookup and simply a naked body in water. Casually, barely disguised nudity is all the rage on the Pastagram’s feed. They even go as far as posting a naked crotch covered in tiny beach figurines, making the water look like turquoise-colored public hair.
Ahead of two of the most sexual photos, the owners — who run the account, according to a representative — posted a photo warning that “adult entertainment” was forthcoming. This, of course, ignores the fact that someone would likely encounter these photos without the warning since Instagram home feeds are non-chronological.
And accompanying the “adult entertainment” warning was a slew of on-the-nose hashtags, like #sexpictures, #sexy, and even #beatme. They also include #eater which, sorry, isn’t going to earn you a reblog, pal.
A representative for the Pastagram tells Eater NY that there’s no need for the restaurant to post photos of the food it serves and its space because presumably diners will do that work. Instead, the Pastagram’s feed is intended to “attract the attention of the public,” according to the rep, and the restaurant abides by the old adage “sex sells” to do so.
The posts are meant to be provocative but not vulgar or trashy, and “irony is key,” the rep says. As such, photos of pasta will rarely appear, although the owners — who run the account — will also adhere to “ironic non-sexual themes” in the future.
It does seem that these other brands are taking their cues from By Chloe. The vegan chain not only uses sex to sell but tries to be eye-catching in general with intriguing but slightly off-putting photos. Other bizarre images, like jello in the shape of a grenade, a dilapidated fruit plate with disembodied eyeballs, and what appears to be Cheez Whiz on a banana (terrifying), come up as well. In fact, By Chloe might have a fetish for weird banana photos, and the Pastagram has seemingly followed suit.
Intensely curated Instagrams are certainly nothing new in the restaurant world. Restaurants intentionally try to go viral with over-the-top food creations. But the “sexy fruit” approach is something different, an attempt to grab eyes that has little to do with the food served and also rarely involves original work produced by the restaurant.
Occasionally By Chloe posts original photos, but the bulk of the chain’s feed is reposted from other viral accounts, like @tasteofstreep and @thingsinmymouth, or from aesthetic bloggers and other photographers. As far as grabbing attention goes, it’s a pretty effective strategy — but only because many of these posts are so off-putting, it’s hard to look away.