Behind the Scenes: How Food Trends Are Created

Some time in January this year, Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer started trending on social media because of their outlandish milkshakes. Curious to see them for myself, I went to the SoHo location, expecting a waiting time of about 30 minutes. To my shock, I was told that I would have to wait for an hour at the least! I decided to wait in the 2-block-long line, simply because the milkshakes I had seen on Instagram looked outrageous! After an hour, the manager told us that it would be another hour… But I wasn’t going to just go away after having already spent an hour of my life waiting outside. So I waited for another hour until they seated us inside the tiny, matchbox-sized cafe.

I ordered my milkshake, but of course, after patiently waiting for hours I wasn’t just going to have a milkshake— so I also ordered a burger and fries. When the milkshake arrived, the first thing I did was (obviously) take photographs for Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. After all, the milkshake was so crazy, AND I had just dedicated the better part of my evening to attaining it, so I had to share it with the world.

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I was disappointed with the way it tasted, but I found that it didn’t even matter to me, because it photographed excellently, and the burger was spectacular.

But I enjoyed the experience, and thought it was pretty spontaneous of me, until I read The Washington Post’s article on how restaurants lure customers with ‘stunt foods’.

According to The Washington Post, trendy, eyeball-grabbing fast-food innovations are a way to get customers through the door.

Why does it work? Because, social media.

Think of Pizza Hut’s Grilled Cheese Stuffed Crust Pizza, which is made up of mozzarella and cheddar baked into a crust that’s topped with bread crumbs and melted butter. Or KFC’S Double Down, a bacon, cheese and Colonel Sauce sandwich that used fried chicken fillets as a bun.

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These stunt foods are planned and executed strategically. The recipes can take years to craft, and presentation is key to how shareable the dish will be on social media.

Once they’re unveiled, more often than not, they’re only on the menu for a limited time. This ensures that customers will line up outside the restaurant that’s serving the stunt dish, just so they can photograph it and share it with their friends and followers. They want to experience the stunt dish more than they want to taste it, so it doesn’t even need to taste fantastic, as long as it looks incredible and tastes good enough.

The most surprising factor? These stunt dishes aren’t even the bestselling items! The bestsellers continue to be the standard dishes, while outrageous creations are simply used to lure in customers who will presumably order other dishes.

Stunt dishes work because they look appealing, and they engage on social media. The average customer will be willing to wait in line to be able to show the world that she is adventurous and willing to try new things. It’s more aspirational than it is about the dish itself. The more people share images of the dish on social media, the more customers will be lured in by the stunt dish.

And if the customer has seen the stunt dish on social media, the restaurant’s name is more likely to be at the top of her mind when she’s thinking about what to get for dinner.

So, the next time I see the newest food craze on Instagram (Hot dog churros? Chocolate chip cookies stuffed with candy floss?? Steamed ice cream dumplings???) I’ll be more aware of what goes on behind the scenes. But will that stop me from waiting in line to Instagram them? Probably not!

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