Restaurants in the Age of Social Media


Liv Chai

Fryguys, a trendy East Village french fry shop.

Scott Hogan, Staff Writer

Forget Yelp and Zagat. Young people are turning toward their Instagram Explore pages to discover which foods to go out and try next. For many, a restaurant’s social media presence indicates success and popularity. In fact, some of the most popular places to grab a bite to eat in New York are those that have been able to successfully market themselves on social media.

One restaurant that found itself instant success online is the FryGuys, described by owners McKenzie Foster and Marco Lanuto as a one-stop shop for all things potato. The owners of the popular chain have a few things to share about how social media has played a role in their success.

Opening up restaurants in New York is a make or break situation. With the costs of rent, employment and upkeep, it is extremely difficult to make a profit even if the restaurant is successful, and many restaurants find themselves closing their doors with a shocking 80 percent fail rate in New York City. So how are young and inexperienced restaurateurs, such as Foster and Lanuto, able to gain almost instant success in such a cutthroat environment? To them, one of the most important aspects of their business is social media.

“Our social media is very successful and it’s successful because we are our own consumer, and if you’re your own consumer you know exactly how you want to be marketed to,” Foster said. “Social media for us must bring in over 50 percent of our customers.”

While restaurants used to rely on just quality food and atmosphere, social media is now playing a large role in the success of new restaurants and Foster and Lanuto were not blind to this when building FryGuys.

“We definitely had in mind while we were designing our business that we knew everything we have has to be its own Instagramable moment, whether it’s the space itself, the food, or the exterior,” Foster said.

A huge allure of the restaurant is the opportunity for visitors to come in and use the engaging backdrop to update their social media pages. FryGuys has turned its space into a vintage Lisa Frank fever dream, with disco balls, record players and vibrant graffiti adorning the walls. With over half the customers coming in based off of what they see online, the atmosphere is essential for the vitality of the business.

“Atmosphere was what created the business,” Lanuto said.

This emphasis on social media and their efforts to make the restaurant Instagramable has not gone unnoticed. Stern first-year Millind Sundaram took a look at the FryGuys social media pages and reverberated the message the company aims to send.

“The Instagram is really colorful, like a psychedelic explosion,” Sundaram said. “I could see it lasting, but in New York, everything is constantly changing, so they’d have to keep up.”

Trends come and go, making it necessary for businesses like FryGuys to ensure they don’t become yesterday’s news. Every time its food or store shows up on someone’s Instagram feed, it generates interest, and if these appearances dwindle, fewer people will be talking or thinking about the store. Restaurants need to understand the mindset of the consumer, recognizing what can make their store stand out on a social media feed.

“Instagram these days is about what grabs people’s attention,” Foster said. “Color, and size and creativity and extravagance is what brings people in.” Foster said.


Read more from Washington Square News’ “Food Consumes Us.” Email Scott Hogan at [email protected].