While at a food market called Dinerama in London’s Shoreditch district, Chris Stang pulled out his phone, like so many of us would do, to snap a photo of the burger he was about to eat.
A snarky Londoner next to him glanced over and said, “What, do you have a food Instagram or something?”
Stang’s reply: “Actually, yeah.”
But Stang’s page isn’t just any little account: It’s The Infatuation, a multi-city bar and restaurant review website that has a legion of diehard fans.
Stang, cofounder and CEO of The Infatuation, told Business Insider that when he explained to the stranger judging him for his food photo what his Instagram account was called, her immediate response was, “Oh my God, I follow that!” and pulled out her phone to show him the various Infatuation accounts (and there are many) that she followed on Instagram.
That conversation, Stang says, happened three months before The Infatuation even launched in London.
‘We’re your friend’
The Infatuation officially went live in London in April, but it had been gathering a following there for a while, as evidenced by Stang’s run-in with a fan. The @infatuation_london Instgram account has 56,488 followers at last check.
But what actually is The Infatuation?
“We’re your friend,”Andrew Steinthal, cofounder and head of partnerships, told Business Insider. “That’s always what we set out to be originally. We want to be that friend that you trust to get information, mainly about restaurants and where to drink.”
The Infatuation began in April 2009 as a solution to stuffy restaurant reviews of old. Stang and Steinthal were friends and music industry executives, and the site began as a side project with the plan to turn it into a full-time gig. That happened in April 2014, when both founders quit their jobs to work on The Infatuation full-time.
Today, the site traffics in reviews and guides of local bars and restaurants in cities ranging from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. Not only does the tone and language set it apart from other food-focused sites, but so does the specificity of the guides, like “Where To Have A Last-Minute Group Dinner” and “The Kind-Of-Healthy Brunch Guide.” The site will expand to cover Seattle in June, and will add Paris as its next international city this summer.
But where its power really comes from is Instagram. The Infatuation runs 22 separate accounts — one for each of its active cities, a main account, plus accounts like @pizza, @avocadotoast, and @burger. The company also has its own branded hashtag, #eeeeeats, that has been used millions of times on Instagram — 7,060,885 posts have that hashtag at last count. Its main account, @infatuation, has more than 704,000 followers, while its city-specific accounts have anywhere between 11,000 and 171,000 followers.
“The beginning of Instagram was just a great way for us to connect with the audience — a two-way conversation to get people interested in our brand,” Steinthal said. “We built and built and built on Instagram, and then…we went and grabbed as many of those food accounts as we could just to give us more real estate on a platform we were really committed too. Instagram for us has been massive, both for the community development and growth overall, our business.”
Reeling them in
As Instagram rolls out new tools and features, both Stang and Steinthal say they’re excited about how they use them to continue growing the business.
“The biggest thing for us lately that’s been new is that Instagram Stories are just so powerful,” Stang said. “One of our biggest things with Instagram is that we just want people to know that we do things with a certain purpose and we’re committed to people knowing that we don’t take free meals. When you see something that we posted, it’s something that we actually ate and we actually went there.”
The Infatuation has also started doing what they call “restaurant review ride-alongs”on Instagram Stories so they can let their audience in on the dining experience.
Both Stang and Steinthal admit that while all the Instagram love is great to see, someone using the hashtag “#eeeeeats,” for instance, may not necessarily know what The Infatuation is, be a frequent reader of the site, or buy tickets to Infatuation events (which is how the company makes most of its money). The founders don’t see it as a bad thing, though.
“They’re in our world and they may not even realize it yet,” Steinthal said. “So we just need to do the job of reeling them in.”