When London-based restaurant chain Dirty Bones launched its fourth location in Soho earlier this year, the owners designed it shrewdly and strategically to appeal to a specific demographic—patrons who skewed younger and were fluent in social media. What some may term Instagram "influencers."
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Its walls were adorned with aspirational bromides: GOOD VIBES ONLY, KEEPING IT REAL. The restaurant’s “NYC-inspired” menu shapeshifts by the month based on what’s “trending.” More recent selections include matcha custard pies, a brisket and dry aged steak burger topped with beef short rib and mac and cheese.
This past week, the restaurant announced it’d be arming its patrons in its Soho location with what it’s calling “foodie Instagram packs.” The kits come with a various assortment of dongles—a portable LED light, multi-device charger, clip-on wide-angle lens, tripod, and a selfie stick—all in service of creating the perfect composition eaters can post to social.
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The tools, the restaurant’s founder Cokey Sulkin has reassured the public, are small and unobtrusive, and participating in this as you dine is voluntary. The option to partake in this activity simply exists to “enable guests to share Dirty Bones Soho's best qualities without compromising the cost atmosphere and design.”
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A fine, savvy strategy: Shift the onus of doing the PR work to your patrons. It of course makes sense—there are few better ways to manufacture buzz and interest than to encourage your customers to become evangelists. This promotion is a gesture that’s been spun as death sentence for the modern-day restaurant as we know it, auguring doom for what we are taught and instructed to value in our meals.
I understand this reaction—“foodie Instagram packs” is a collection of words that certainly gave me pause—but I can’t help but admire how brazenly and openly the team behind Dirty Bones is embracing a very basic truth about how many of us eat. If you choose to take photos of your food, I won’t shame you. Enjoy your time at Dirty Bones. Better to abide by the cardinal rule of eating at restaurants: Focus on your meal, and try not to care about what other diners around you are doing.
Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.