Creating a visual appetite for delicious food

Preparing, serving, enjoying – these are the creative steps to entertaining a satisfied guest in a restaurant or café. But a guest also wants to be invited first. More and more restaurateurs are turning to an appealing website or a regularly updated social media presence for this purpose. In order to score points with guests, high demands should be placed on the ambience and the dishes displayed. The time and effort invested in this is worthwhile in several ways.


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A basis for snapping appealing photos is suitable equipment. Although smartphones now deliver very good pictures in high resolutions, certain effects often can’t be achieved or only with great difficulty using additional apps. The built-in flashes on mobile phones can reduce red eyes, but other targeted lighting techniques are difficult or impossible to implement. This guide offers important basic knowledge and practical tips on how and with what tools you can stage your gastronomic skills and take another step towards digitalization as a local business.

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Convincing customers with professional photography standards

Let’s start at the beginning. It’s not enough to snap a picture of a plate of pasta- although this is part of the process. Photography is one of many genres that primarily appeals to the senses. Successful food photography not only depicts an object, but also allows viewers to feel an ambience, smell the aroma of the food, taste the flavors, or hear the sounds of a café. All of this invites a user to explore what’s on offer and have a closer look at what it’s all about. The product that is supposed to trigger the senses naturally belongs on the photo, and should hold a very central position. But simply taking a photo of a plate of pasta against a white background? This kind of photo could be taken anywhere, even at a restaurant down the street. That’s why design elements are important components to complement your main motif, as these can help capture the atmosphere without displacing or distracting from the product. How do you achieve this?

Special features of the restaurant sector

Very strict hygiene rules apply in gastronomic establishments. Responsible authorities often make visits to make sure everything is in order. Compliance with these rules should be made clear to potential customers and should be reflected in your photography. Fresh food preparation, cleanliness, good crockery and cutlery, perfect glasses, smooth tablecloths, matching napkins – there’s plenty to consider. If it’s up to a person to present the food and drinks, a neat appearance with proper clothing is important. Backgrounds, documents, or accessories for a photo must also meet requirements.

The coronavirus has raised the hygiene bar even more. If restaurants and cafés have to remain closed, out-of-home sales, including delivery services and click-and-collect programs for restaurants are often a possible way of bridging the gap. At this stage, the guest or customer must be able to rely on the establishment’s adherence to high safety standards. A successful food photo can also convey this. Under certain circumstances it may be necessary to have individual photographs for the webshop of different dishes and drinks.


The coronavirus pandemic has dealt a hard blow to the restaurant industry. There are many expert guides on how to avoid virus transmission. IONOS aims to support restaurants with tips, resources, and offers help to stay successful during the corona period. Here’s how to build a successful restaurant website.

What kind of equipment is needed?

The minimum technical equipment needed for product photography in restaurants and cafés includes a digital camera, a medium telephoto lens, lighting equipment, and background materials. The camera does not have to offer a full format. Mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras with an APS-C sensor (22.3 x 14.9 mm) and an interchangeable bayonet are a suitable choice.

A good lens is of great importance. It should have a focal length of at least 50 millimeters, preferably around 75 millimeters, and in addition an aperture as large as possible, at least up to f/2.8. The aperture value is a central photographic tool for directing the eye towards a statement element. You can find more tips in our guide to professional product photography.

Built-in camera flashes are generally not suitable for illuminating the subject. “Working” with the light is therefore not really an option. Swiveling flash units with light scattering attachments and foil colors perform better. Meanwhile, there are also powerful and inexpensive LED lights that can be used to regulate the heat of the light. Very good results can be achieved with these. These kinds of light sources can also be combined with a flash unit.

The scale of possibilities is wide open when it comes to lighting for photography. Ring lights, for example, are a tool that not only product photographers swear by, because of their uniform light emission. Finally, a stable tripod and a remote shutter release on the camera are essential. Today’s remote releases are no longer made of wire, but connect via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, allowing modern cameras to be triggered via a cell phone app.

Practical tips

Once you’ve decided which products you would like to showcase, think of a suitable arrangement. You can conceptualize this almost as you would a script: What belongs where, which objects are part of the picture? Answering these questions will help you create a mood while bringing your products to life. Continue with questions like: Which elements are distracting from the central component? How can you make your guests feel comfortable? Your own taste and the ability to put yourself in guests’ shoes is probably your best guide throughout this process.

The food that you present should be fresh, so that the ingredients will look even better when cooked. Everything that is cooked should not be overcooked. Fruit and vegetables work wonders as decoration, both as a whole or sliced. Many types of fruit quickly turn brownish after being cut, though. Fruit should not show any unappealing discoloration or pressure marks on the outside either, and herbs should not have limp leaves. This also applies to flowers and floral arrangements. Scattered petals must be intentional, for example to decorate a festive table.

Make sure you only use completely clean glasses, dishes and cutlery, preferably all polished. Cutlery and glasses quickly show fingerprints, so wear gloves! Glass or bottles run the risk of being mirrored, even with your camera, especially when you’re leaning in for a close up.

Plates should not be overloaded with food, but a “mouthful” can look unappealing. It’s equally important that all components of a dish or menu are present. Take individual photos of all the ingredients of your 7-course indulgence menu. A picture can quickly become overloaded so that not all ingredients will be presented in the same way. Focus on the dish’s most exciting angle, like the cut-open side of a lasagna, a burger, or a slice of cake.

The perspective of the image also plays an important role. Various studies have shown that the view you have when you’re sitting down at the table is the one that’s most inviting. Set design and styling like a nicely decorated table are ideal for this. In addition, a birds-eye view looking down onto the set table from above can also come across as inviting, as often seen on Instagram.

While shooting, the perspective should be tested with small changes in height as well as from radically different angles. The same applies to the light. Shots with light and few shadows look natural and true-to-life. Shooting against the light creates drama, but also poses the danger of masking the picture’s main element. It is also worth playing with color or black and white shots.

If you’re also using images that are not original i.e. that you did not create, make sure that you handle the copyright correctly in order to avoid legal repercussions. Our guide to image rights online will introduce you to the necessary basics.

After the photoshoot

It’s no secret that you can waste a lot of time looking for the right photos! With a systematically organized photo library, you’ll be able to quickly find your motif of choice. Thematically labeled folders make it easier to find the right subject. If you decide to use a calendar-based folder system, we recommend using the preceding date format with a keyword: “YYYY-MM-DD_samplemeal”. Further subfolders could be called, for example, “Web”, “Social media”, or “SM”.


Where do you save your photo library, and make sure it’s safe? With the HiDrive Cloud Storage from IONOS you’ve got a safe and future-proof solution complete with redundant server locations in Europe.

After taking a photo, you are often spoilt for choice: Which photo is best suited for the job? Here, it’s best to simply save all photos, even if some don’t appear as perfect at first sight. High-resolution photos must be adapted to suitable image formats and file sizes for the website or social media channel. You should always keep the original photo, because you never know when the next restaurant flyer will be needed.

To edit images, you’ve got a host of programs to choose from. The flagship program is Photoshop from Adobe, but for image editing for websites and social media there are also less expensive or even free alternatives to Photoshop to choose form.

When creating a website for a restaurant, technical requirements will call for the correct image sizes. In some content management systems, an original photo can be uploaded, which the system then converts and saves in previously defined image sizes, e.g. in WordPress settings: 150 x 150 pixels for thumbnails, 300 x 200 pixels for images embedded in text, and 1,024 x 680 pixels to display images in lightboxes or photo galleries.

The original image is of course also located on the server and consumes several megabytes of memory. That’s why it’s worthwhile to scale down images before uploading them to a maximum horizontal size of 1,920 pixels at a resolution of 72 dpi. This reduces 8.6 megabytes of a photo with 4,896 x 3,672 pixels to only about one third of the file size. You won’t need more than that with the most popular website formats.

When it comes to selecting the right file type for restaurant and café images, our overview of graphic formats can help.

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Photos for social media

A good marketing concept for restaurants and cafés not only helps grow a loyal community of customers but is also present on social networks with photos (and videos). In the Journal for Corporate Communications, Julia Meifort coined the term “digital food” in a research paper (issue 2/2017). In this form of communication, the advertised process of eating becomes a social interaction. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or YouTube – each channel has its own image sizes and formats.

That’s why it’s worth creating templates for the image formats for your own social media presence, and to label them accordingly. There are various free templates that you can find online for this specific purpose. Below you’ll find a short overview of image requirements as of 2020.


  • Profile picture: 180 x 180 pixels (presented within a circle). Upload with 1.200 x 1.200 pixels
  • Main image: 820 x 312 pixels
  • Main image for events: 828 x 315 pixels
  • Split images: recommended 1.200 x 630 pixels


  • Profile picture: 110 x 110 pixels (presented within a circle)
  • Square: 1.080 x 1.080 pixels
  • Horizontal format: 1.080 x 560 pixels
  • Vertical format: 1.080 x 1.350 pixels
  • For Stories: 1.080 x 1.920 pixels


  • Profile header picture: 1.500 x 500 pixels
  • Profile picture on the profile page: 400 x 400 pixels
  • Picture for the Twitter stream: 400 x 220 pixels

For frequently used formats, it is best to create templates with the necessary pixel dimensions. With such a file, e.g. as a PSD file in Photoshop, you can place photos as individual layers and then resize, crop, rotate, or distort them as you wish. The best photo editing programs also have an export function for web images, which provide the required resolution of 72 dpi. For circular formats, use the diameter as a measure for the edge length and make sure that the main part of the image is centered.

Our guide on how restaurants and cafes boost sales on social media has got some more tips on how to build a successful social media presence.


Every little thought that you put into the presentation of your restaurant or café, on how to come across in a unique and credible way, will most likely pay off if you catch guests’ attention. If you then continuously fulfill what’s being promised in your photographs, you’re sure to be appreciated as a good host.

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