Food & Drink

Bartenders Tell Us What They Really Think About Instagramming at Their Bars

Mark Yocca / Supercall

It doesn’t matter how beautiful your cocktail is; it’s impossible to get around the feeling of judgment as you take out your phone for pictures. Still, if you didn’t put it on the ‘gram, did you even drink it? Besides, is your bartender really judging you? We caught up with 13 bartenders and bar owners to let them sound off about what they really think every time you whip out your phone for a photo.

Stop Bothering Other People

“So here’s my take on Instagramming at a bar: If you’re not bothering anyone around you or causing a scene, I’m all for it,” says Kenneth McCoy, the chief creative officer at Public House Collective. “But if you are taking people out of the comfort of being in a bar, then absolutely not. I’m very against anything that takes away the magic of being in a bar. No computers, no talking on your cell phone. Talk to the people around you. It’s much more interesting."

Erick Castro, the Hungry Bartender behind Polite Provisions and Boilermaker, admits that he likes it when people Instagram at his bars. It means that customers are happy with the drinks. “The only time it’s problematic is when it interferes with another guest’s experience,” he says. “Most people tend to be good at it, but I have seen someone walk up to someone and say, ‘You mind if I use this spot for a photo?’ And it’s like, ‘Do you mind leaving them alone?’”

Instagrammable Drinks Can Be More Enjoyable

A proper cocktail tastes delicious, but a great cocktail touches on as many different senses as possible—including sight.
“I have always been a believer that we taste with our eyes first and that if a drink looks good, that will immediately inform the brain that it will probably (hopefully!) taste good,” says Ivy Mix, the co-founder of Speed Rack and co-owner of Leyenda. “The unfortunate thing is that certain bars are relying on WOW factor and crazy drinks that use bad ingredients and taste bad too. Sure, it can look good but if it tastes bad then there is no point. From a business perspective, I love it when people think my drinks are beautiful enough to put online for the world to see. I took a great deal of time and effort to make it pretty, so enjoy it!”

Instagram Can Spread the Word About the Bar

At the end of the night, a photo of a drink posted from the bar spreads the word about the establishment, no matter what bar owners and bartenders think.

“As a bartender, it's the easiest thing to do to roll your eyes as a guest's drink is sitting there, further diluting, as they struggle for the perfect lighting and angle in taking that pristine Instagram photo of your beautifully-crafted work,” Brian Evans, the head bartender at Sunday In Brooklyn, says. “However, in the realm of hospitality, you're there to provide a good time, and the fact that a cocktail you set in front of them tastes so good visually before even drinking it that they want to spread the word—you've let the drink do half of the work, and what's left is to use that Instagram-worthy creation as a conversation-piece, forwarding the guest's good time.  Ultimately, it's good for business.”

From a business mindset, a proper Instagram image is one of the best things that could happen to a bar. “More and more consumers are impacted by this sort of passive advertising,” Lynnette Marrero, Mix’s co-founder at Speed Rack, says. “You can expand your network via your fans. It makes my team think a little harder about the presentation of each drink which is what we should do. There is just more accountability.”

Of course, that passive advertising isn’t always the most gorgeous. But it is authentic.

“Instagram is one of the most powerful marketing tools we've seen in recent years, and it's free!” says Dan Scott, the co-founder of The Whaling Club. “Patrons who snap a quick picture of their cocktail and post it on their feed or in their story, are more often than not, doing our businesses an incredibly valuable service. Consumer provided content on Instagram gives other users an authentic look into our bars and restaurants, often in real time. The shots aren't always glamorous, but they're real.”

People Sharing Their Own Story Is a Good Thing

It’s hard to know what’s been engineered to go viral and what’s an accurate representation these days. You taking a photo helps cut through the noise of ads.

“As more and more business accounts curate their feeds to showcase what they want you to see with professional photos and videos, there's even more value in social content by actual patrons,” Scott says. “So, for the 30 seconds or so that someone may take to stop to snap a picture while the head on your Sour dies or while your Martini gets just a few degrees warmer, I'd say it's probably worth it in the long run.”

Just Turn Off the Flash

It’s all fun and games until someone’s eyes are blinded by the flash of a ‘grammer. Blaze Powers, the lead bartender at Harlowe, says taking and posting is fine with one caveat: “As long as they aren’t shining their flash into my eyes, I love watching people get excited enough to want to Instagram their cocktails.”

Eric Tschudi, the head bartender and sommelier at Shuko, agrees—especially at places like tiki bars where drinks have over the top garnishes and fire. “I personally have no problem with people Instagramming at the bar,” he says. “Just turn off the damn flash!”

Turning the flash off is a pretty consistent request among bartenders. Patrick Ruby, a bartender at Academia, adds, “I always welcome guests to take pictures of their favorite drinks, but please do not use your flash! Using the natural lighting produces better pictures and doesn’t make you look like an amateur!”

He has a point here. And if you’re curious about how to successfully take a good photo in a dark bar with your phone, heed the advice of top photographers.

Focus on the Drink, Not the Pic

Some bartenders contend that there’s a time for pictures, and there’s a time for drinks—kind of like a Venn diagram with a very small center.

“There’s a tension that’s created when creating cocktails just for Instagram,” Kevin Denton, Pernod Ricard’s lead mixologist, says. “Garnishes that are over the top may photograph well, but they also might prohibit easy drinking. While we definitely drink with our eyes first, I believe we’re in the business of ‘delicious.’ It’s what’s in the glass that’s most important.”

Bars are designed to be aesthetically pleasing places to connect with people and share a beverage, not necessarily to stage a photoshoot. “Make sure to remember you’re at a bar with other humans,” Tschudi says. “People who stare at their phones for the entirety of their dining or drinking experience make me sad.”

Instagramming Your Drink Is a Sign of a Job Well Done

“I think there’s a sense of pride that you’ve created something that your guest found special enough to photograph it and share it within their world,” says Tonia Guffey, a brand ambassador at Highland Park and a self proclaimed takes-photos-in-bars person. “Instagram can bring new people to a bar in a way nothing else can. I think when you start creating drinks specifically to be Instagrammable that can get a little tricky because some part of the drinks integrity may be challenged to create a better picture. But an organic Instagram snap is proof of a happy customer and a job well done.”