Thanks to footballer Manti Te’o’s “girlfriend” hoax, and the “Catfish” documentary-turned-TV show, we’re more wary than ever of someone on the Internet pretending to be who they’re not. But our skepticism doesn’t stop there. Since pictures are key in “fake Internet identity” heists, this suspicion of web content also applies to the use of stock photos of food, kitchen equipment, and other restaurant-focused images on many restaurant websites. Authenticity is key with today’s digitally savvy, and often skeptical, audience.
Techopedia.com defines a stock photo as “an electronic photograph used for creative or business purposes in lieu of hiring a photographer for a given project.” It’s a common misconception that all stock photos are fair game for those who find them through a quick Internet search. Unlike free public domain photos, stock photo usage fees and rights are determined by the website or agency that has copyright ownership of the image. Those who use a copyrighted stock photo without permission risk being sued for copyright infringement, potentially costing them thousands of dollars.
Even if stock photos are obtained through legal means, there are still plenty of reasons to stay away from stock photos and use authentic and original photos for restaurant websites.
Entice Your Customers
Restaurant photos, especially of food, have the power to entice potential customers to dine. By posting a photo that isn’t actually of your restaurant, you’re setting up your business for failure in meeting those expectations. Subway’s reputation, for example, recently took a bad hit when photographic evidence proved their footlongs didn’t measure up to expectations set by their own images.
Stand Out from Competition
Using images not intended to represent your restaurant also robs you of the opportunity to distinguish your business from your competition. Since stock photo agencies determine usage of their images, your competition could possibly use the exact same stock photos posted on your restaurant’s website. To sell your specific brand identity and consumers to your restaurant (and away from the competition), it’s important to only use images featuring your restaurant’s unique style, but also to show the dishes just as they appear in your kitchen. Chefs take pride in their artistic presentations, so why not show off their craft by using photos of their unique style.
With the soaring popularity of sharing food photos on Foodspotting and Instagram, it’s easier for today’s consumers to spot the difference between unique images and stock photos. A stock photo of something on your menu won’t have your restaurant in the background, be served on your particular tableware, or feature any other indicators of your restaurant’s brand. Stock photos are also deemed as “too perfect” with white or solid color backgrounds, glossy surfaces, and artificial ingredients like glue or food dye to pump up the image.
Be Trustworthy (and Legal)
Beware of Google Image Search, which helps would-be copyright infringers swipe images to use on their website. Anyone can simply click on the camera icon in the Google search bar, upload an image (or paste an image’s URL), and instantly see all the websites containing that same image. Getting busted for using a fake photo on your website breaks consumer trust and can turn away business.
By drawing in diners with unique images showcasing your restaurant, you’ll also be attracting new customers to potentially take and share their own photos of your restaurant, thus promoting your business with no cost to you. Just remember that if you want to share a customer’s photo on your sites to show your loyal fans some love, you’ll need to get their permission first and give them proper credit.