Food bloggers love overhead table shots. This is because it’s “a great way to make a very graphic image,” writes Los Angeles food photographer Christina Peters, in the Food Photography Blog.
“It’s actually a very easy way to create a nice-looking food photo because you are totally eliminating dimension in your shot, so you don’t have to worry about background props,” she writes.
Since so many diners are amateur food bloggers and aspiring Instagram influencers with enough followers to boost their desire to eat and drink and photograph beautiful stuff, it’s a no-brainer for restaurants to sneak some branding into all of those gorgeous overhead table shots.
“Bar and restaurant concepts have become more involved and complex over the years due to the natural evolution of design, but also the increasingly competitive climate of the industry,” said Justin Lew, owner of Last Rites, a tiki bar with an edge in San Francisco. “As such, furniture and fixtures have had to follow. Custom work is mandatory.”
This evolution in social media, photography and restaurant brands converges into a single point lately: the tabletop itself.
In some cases, the tabletop spells out the name of the restaurant — since a menu in the shot can look a little forced. In others, restaurants might just make a statement with centuries old wood, rendered smooth by craftsmen, or even the door of a vintage airplane.
Last Rites designers James Lagoc and Brian Sullivan have used highly detailed décor and a riveting backstory to elevate tiki kitsch to something more sophisticated.
The experiential narrative has become as key as menu planning for new restaurants. The narrative created at Last Rites tells the story of a plane crash that leaves diners marooned in a savage tropical jungle. Complete with shrunken heads, nine-foot stone skull idols, airplane seats-turned-barstools and exposed banyan tree roots, the tables had to help set the scene. In the bar, cocktail tables are made of old-timey shipping crates. Larger seating is around the door of a jet liner.
Lew said the challenge was turning tropical dreams into reality from a functional standpoint using salvaged objects.
“If we could salvage it and make it work, we did. The challenge lied in making our concepts functional … at the end of the day, the airplane door needs to be at the right height, flat, sturdy and cleanable,” Lew said. “The airplane door had to be pitched and mounted in a certain way so the curvature didn’t affect the functionality.”
A French revolution
A number of U.S. restaurants have been tapping the talents of French furniture company Ardamez, which offers beautiful custom bistro tables. Actually, it takes more than a month to create each tabletop, each one is very heavy and costs around $500 (uncustomized), plus shipping.
By using baked enamel rather than, say, a sticker or decal, restaurants can literally bake their logo into the tabletop for a more subtle, classy look, as seen at the Riddler, Jen Pelka’s Champagne bar.
For Swan Restaurant in Miami, Ardamez created pearlescent tables that complete guests’ effortlessly casual sunglasses-rose-brunch feast photo shoots.
Another restaurant that’s taking a walk on the French side is Bluestem in San Francisco. The gorgeous grain on heavy wooden tables make a signature backdrop for overhead Instagram shots.
Wood is perhaps a pretty traditional material for tabletops, but don’t underestimate the power of trees in a restaurant’s narrative.
MIT alum and environmentalist Ayr Muir created Clover Food Lab in Boston with a mission to address global warming by building a better food future. The name Clover is meant to evoke green, simple, pastoral times and local cows.
A serpentine wooden table that snakes through the center of the restaurant’s minimalist design adds some of that rough-hewn warmth and nature back into the space and creates a communal feeling as well. It’s carved from a single log, a process that definitely makes a statement.
The fluidity of wood also makes appearances at Heroic Wine Bar, a new “Cal-Italian” kitchen and wine room next to Adam Fleischman (Umami Burger creator) and Jeffrey Merrihue’s Heroic Deli in Santa Monica.
Fundamentally, the table is far more than just a surface on which to put your plates.
But Lew of Last Rites notes that table design doesn’t need to be in your face to be effective.
“Fine details are important, but let the guest discover them instead of slapping them in the face with them,” he said.
Contact Tara Fitzpatrick at [email protected]
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