Being Boston’s Brunch Guide

Written by Alex DiSchino. Photos by @BostonBrunchGuide.

As anyone with an Instagram can tell you, there are A LOT of people posting about food. Any Joe or Jane with a camera phone can easily fancy themselves an amateur food critic slash photojournalist slash influencer and reach their friends iPhones with just a few taps of a touchscreen… but there are a surprisingly few amount of people who get any REAL traction…rising above the ranks to become elevated to the status of influencers.

So while restaurateurs everywhere are constantly being pushed to step up their game so every plate that leaves the kitchen is perfectly cooked for every diner, they are also presented with a new challenge: make sure that each plate is camera ready! After all, it’s destined to be immortalized on the internet as Instagrammers across America aim to make their followers salivate.

With that said, the Cambridge Dictionary defines an influencer as “someone who affects or changes the way that other people behave, for example through their use of social media.”

I had the pleasure of spending a behind the scenes day with local Boston food instagrammer @BostonBrunchGuide to learn a little more about she gets people off the couch and into restaurants through the magic of social media.  And while the day started as an ordinary Q&A over coffee, what came next really surprised me….

First, let’s meet Danielle:

@BostonBrunchGuide has seen amazing growth – Danielle was telling me that she’s grown from a little over 3000 to almost 9000 followers in the past 12 months, earning about 15 new followers a day on average.

Q: Tell me about yourself: Where you from, what brought you to Boston and what do you do when you’re not eating brunch?

A: I’m originally from Connecticut but have lived in Boston for almost 10 years. I moved here to attend Northeastern University and ended up staying after graduation. While I wish I could survive off brunching alone, I actually work full time in finance.

Q: So when did you start @BostonBrunchGuide?

A: Fall or winter of 2014, but it wasn’t until the past year that I really became serious about it.

Q: What made you want to start a food instagram?

A: I wanted to start some sort of blog, I tried a couple other topics but when I started talking about food it stuck. Food is such a big part of my everyday, so it just came naturally.

Q: So why brunch?

A: It is hands down the best meal of the week. There are no rules. It allows chefs to be creative with menus and it’s the perfect time to catch up with friends. Who doesn’t want to go to brunch??

Q: What’s your favorite brunch item?

A: Eggs Benny. There are so many expressions. I am also a big fan of the new “table cake” trend which lets you get a bit of sweetness into the meal without committing fully.

Q: Umm…table cake?

A: Yep, like a super decadent pancake or waffle to share. For example, Lincoln Tavern in Southie serves a Fruity Pebbles Pancake. It’s not great for a full meal, but perfect to share.

Q: Awesome! Ok, now a harder question. Is there an expectation that your posts will be positive when a restaurant invites you to dine?

A: When I am invited into a restaurant, the expectation is definitely that I will post a photo of my experience– but I always note that I will only post if I truly like what I’ve tried. If I don’t like it, I won’t post it. I choose to focus on highlighting the positive experiences I’ve had. I’m not a food critic. With all the sponsored content on social media these days people don’t know what is real and that’s a big issue. If I post it, I truly liked it. If a restaurant has a problem with that, I’ll say thanks for the offer turn down the invite. Luckily, not many have.

Q: I can get behind that. Okay, a few more questions. What do you feel the most challenging aspect of starting @BostonBrunchGuide was?

A: The number one thing for me was patience. Some weeks can be really frustrating, when you’re producing content and getting less engagement than you thought you would.  There are so many new instagram accounts just getting started out there that ask “How do you get invited to these events?” or “How do you get free food?” There is an oversaturation of Boston food instagrams out there — and if you’re only in it for the free food, it is going to be hard, frustrating, and you probably won’t find much success. You have to be patient and build an audience that believes in what you’re doing and saying, and you have to be honest about it. Don’t get me wrong, the perks are amazing and I truly feel so lucky to be doing this, but it isn’t why I started BBG.

Q: And now that you have that audience, I noticed you recently launched a website and a blog, what sparked the expansion?

A: Instagram is such a visual platform. I was posting a lot and getting a lot of questions that I wanted to answer. “I’m coming in town for the weekend, where should I get brunch?” was a popular one. I wanted a place where I could engage with people away from Instagram and provide more content. After all, Instagram could go away any day with the way trends in social media work.

Q: Smart move. Okay, so last question – what are your goals for this year coming off a year of really great growth?

A: I’ve really had to start thinking about this hobby a lot more like a business. The more I’m engaging directly with restaurants rather than just going in and dining myself, the more I feel that I need a real brand, logo, etc. I also really want to expand the website to have a real “Brunch Guide.”

Q: Really great. I’m sure all of your followers will be excited for that. So where are you off to after this?

A: I was actually invited to Towne for brunch along with another instagrammer (Joey from @the_roamingfoodie)…wanna tag along?

I had no idea what I was in for!

We walked into Towne Stove and Spirits at 11 am on Saturday. They had just changed the brunch menu and had invited Danielle and Joey to come dine. The chef was so excited he decided to plan a little surprise. We were escorted upstairs into a private dining room and greeted by the Chef.

NOTE: Both Joey and Danielle noted that the following events never happen, so I guess I picked a great day to tag along.

Normally, Danielle sits at a table, orders her food, takes as many pictures as possible before it gets too cold. She scarfs it down hurriedly while editing a post and finishes just in time for the next dish. Today, she ate first…then was offered the whole menu.

What I originally expected to be a quick brunch became a truly remarkable afternoon. The head chef paraded new item after new item for the two to shoot and taste. My personal favorite was the waffles.

While the passive follower might be enamored by the fact that these two influencers got to try all this food for free “just for posting some pictures,” I got a chance to the see the real reason restaurants entertain from an outsider’s perspective.

Over the 3 hour escapade, Danielle provided an invaluable resource to the restaurant – not only by taking pictures of delicious food, but also by brainstorming new marketing ideas, educating the chef and manager on their consumers, and making approximately 9000 potential Boston local new diners crave a big stack of chicken and waffles. I have to say that’s certainly not a bad deal for Towne and really reinforced why we should absolutely expect to see big things from influencer marketers and @BostonBrunchGuide in the future.

Student Spotlight: Morgan Mannino

“Cook’s Illustrated, I’ve got a tasting of apple crostata in the main kitchen,” a test cook’s voice mumbles over the telephone speaker.

Morgan dressed up as one of the most popular Cook’s Illustrated recipes of 2017, the Olive Oil Cake.

I look up from my work, it’s 11AM, having some dessert pre-lunch won’t hurt me, plus it’s got apples in it (it’s practically health food) and I’d love to see where Steve is in his recipe development. I grab my phone and head to the kitchen with the hope of stringing together some engaging shots for our Instagram Story. The editors and I stand around a metal table and munch on 3 different samples of crostata, looking for variations in texture and flavor and comment on them. The Cook’s Illustrated team could spend hours analyzing and debating different ways to improve the texture of an apple slice in a crostata. These debates will help inform and color my social posts about the recipe, almost a year in the future. The recipe development happens so far ahead since it involves an extensive, rigorous process of making and making and making again, surveying home cooks who volunteer to make the recipe at home, final tweaking, shooting, and finally publishing. This, of course, is a strange balance with the immediacy in which I am Instagramming what’s currently going on, right now, in the kitchen. Such is the nature of working in social media for a 25 year old magazine.

Three apple crostatas line up in the test kitchen for a tasting analyzing different techniques for apple arrangement and crust recipes.

These tastings punctuate my day as I work towards the overarching goal of marketing Cook’s Illustrated and developing the brand on social media. As a Senior Social Media Coordinator at America’s Test Kitchen, I curate, write, and schedule all the content that goes out on the Cook’s Illustrated Instagram and Facebook accounts (with a little Pinterest here and there). I also work very closely with the magazine editors, video team, photo team, and design team to strategize, visualize, and communicate our brand on the platforms. The craziest time of year is right now, Thanksgiving and the holidays, where I’ll spend 100s of manhours (having started in July) planning and strategizing a cohesive campaign that not only is engaging but also meets our marketing business goals.

Behind the scenes during an animation photoshoot for a guacamole recipe.

I began the Gastronomy program in January of 2016. At the time I had been working at America’s Test Kitchen for almost 3 years, but on the Sponsorship Sales team doing client service work. I had the vision of becoming a member of the social media team, but I needed to pave the path to get there in order to be ready once the opportunity presented itself. The program was a help in that journey, inspiring confidence, inspiration, and helping me craft my writing. It also gave me the knowledge of culture and history of food that I have been able to take into my social media role from writing post copy to adding my opinion in a tasting.

Everyday I am incredibly thankful for my job and for the gastronomy program for not only reminding me why I love food and culture so much, but for giving me the tools to make turn that energy into a tangible reality. Some days I’m capturing our tastings and testings team saw coolers in half with a reciprocating saw for Instagram Stories, others I may be joining them for a tasting of 10 samples of burrata or hot sauce, on very special days there might be chocolate pie or some other treat in our “take home fridge” (where all the extra food goes from recipe development each day)  or gushing over the fact that I get to host a food celebrity in house, most days there are dogs wandering about. Needless to say, I often find myself filled with gratitude for my job, especially when a “bad day” is caused by an empty take home fridge or the stress of planning and executing a Facebook Live about prime rib. It’s hard to know where to go from here (I still can’t believe I am working for the magazine that I used to cuddle up and read when I was growing up), and I am so grateful to be here, but know when it’s time I’ll follow where my nose (and taste buds) lead me.

Left: 8 samples of chicken wings in 7 different hot sauces line up for a tasting. Right: Morgan sawing a lunch tray in the name of science (our tastings and testings team was learning how to use the saw to cut into coolers and other kitchen equipment to learn more about how they work).

BU Gastronomy Joins Instagram

Well, we’ve gone and done it. First it was Facebook, then Twitter, and now we’ve joined the ranks of millions and signed up for an Instagram account to share all the food related photos we take throughout the year. We hope to include visuals from things like Gastronomy events, guest speaker seminars, get togethers, field trips, and, of course, all the wonderful snacks our students share in class. Follow along and be sure to share your own BU food adventures with us by tagging our instagram handle bugastronomy or using the hashtag #bugastronomy.

Here’s our first instagram!:

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While we work on uploading all the deets and eats that go on in the program, check out a few of the following instagrammers and their own food-filled feeds:
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handle: alxgrossmn
aka: Alex Grossman, Creative Director at Bon Appetit

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handle: kingarthurflour
aka: King Arthur Flour, Vermont Flour Mill

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handle: julieskitchen
aka: Julie Lee, Food Photographer in LA

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handle: idafrosk
aka: Ida Skivenes, food artist and photographer in Oslo, Norway

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handle: thefauxmartha
aka: Melissa Coleman, blogger and baker

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handle: testkitchen
aka: America’s Test Kitchen, Brookline, Mass.

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handle: talkingfood
aka: Talking Food, food with personality

And, of course, this list just wouldn’t be complete without a few local BU Instagrammers:

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handle: hungry_terrier
aka: The Hungry Terrier, Boston University’s Food Channel

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handle: bufoodandwine
aka: BU Food and Wine, our building neighbors and culinary cohorts

We hope to see you all on instagram and be sure to let us know if you have an account we should follow!