Food blogger Duy Huynh—known to his 30,000 Instagram followers as Duy Dash—has some pro tips for restaurateurs marketing themselves on social media. By Petra Starke
In 2015, Duy Huynh was just another guy selling vacuum cleaners at Harvey Norman, wondering what to do with his design degree and love of photography and food.
Two and a half years and one very successful Instagram account later, the Melbourne-born, Adelaide-raised 30-year-old is in hot demand by restaurants, bars, the media and major brands the world over for his camera skills and social media following.
Just don’t call him an “influencer”.
“Actually I’m trying to break away from the ‘influencer’ market,” he says, explaining that his current passion is “food photography and styling” direct to businesses.
Influential he is, though: as his alter ego Duy Dash, he has more than 30,000 followers on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter combined, with his food and travel photos and videos racking up thousands of likes and shares every day.
One of his most popular—an Instagram video of a milk “freak-shake” topped with three brownies and chocolate sauce at Adelaide cafe 50SixOne—has been viewed more than 12,600 times, and single-handedly turned the place into a local viral sensation.
Another photo, of a pork belly dish at Adelaide restaurant Topiary, landed him a free trip to Tokyo to visit Luke Mangan’s Salt, after it won the R&CA’s “Savour Summer” Instagram competition last year.
Huynh’s social media presence has also translated into mainstream media success: he’s had photos published in TIME online and The Telegraph as well as food articles in various Adelaide publications, and now works with brands including Canon, Mini and Hilton.
It’s a resume that is pure catnip for PR companies. Hunyh estimates he receives anywhere upwards of 20 email pitches a week; after a recent trip to Margaret River, he received half a dozen invitations to restaurant and bar openings in Perth, sent by publicists who noticed he was in the area.
His online following has also led to offline fame; Huynh says he is now something of a celebrity on the Adelaide dining scene.
“If you can figure out a way to present your food so that you can take a photo of it from nearly any angle on your phone, that’s half the problem solved.”—Duy Huynh, aka Duy Dash
“Right now I savour opportunities to go to restaurants where people don’t know who I am,” he laughs.
“When we go to restaurants in Adelaide I don’t book; I get my girlfriend to book because I’m recognised. People don’t really come up to me on the street, but I’ve had instances where people will take a photo of me, sneakily, and not even say hi but they’ll send it to me later and say, ‘Hey, I saw you.’ It’s a bit creepy.”
Huynh says it’s not unusual for him to visit up to four restaurants a day, which he chooses based on what he’s heard and read. “I’m not going to go to a place if I don’t already know it’s good,” he says.
And in a world where anyone with a smartphone can call themselves a photographer, Huynh prides himself on his set-up: he uses a Canon DSLR camera, and his background in design and hospitality (he used to work front of house for some of Adelaide’s top restaurants) mean he has a carefully trained eye.
“I used to get up on chairs in restaurants for the shot. I admit I have done it,” he laughs, adding that he is now a “one-off” type of shooter when it comes to his Instagram photos.
While he shies away from calling his social media posts “reviews”—he won’t post anything negative, he says—he admits he runs his accounts like a sort of online magazine, curating the best food, drink and travel experiences to create recommendations for his followers.
“I want people to look at the photo and go ‘Oh my god, what is this?’ I love to be that communicator that tells people ‘this is new, have you tried this yet?’ and make them go,” he says.
“It’s to give people the inspiration of where to go. Some people will make their decisions based just on the picture, but if I can get people to a place where they even just consider it, that’s what I aim for.”
Huynh has some tips for restaurateurs who want to market themselves on social media:
1. Be on social media
“For the majority of restaurants, I think social media is absolutely essential,” he says.
“People find out more about what’s going on around them from social media than any other form of media right now. I mean, I get my news from Facebook. Restaurants that ignore that, it’s a very big missed opportunity.”
“I want people to look at the photo and go, ‘Oh my god, what is this?’ I love to be that communicator that tells people, ‘This is new, have you tried this yet?’ and make them go.”—Duy Huynh, aka Duy Dash
Huynh recommends Facebook and Instagram as the top two platforms for restaurants and bars, but says business owners need to think outside the box.
“You can’t just put up a post listing your specials; that’s not going to bring people in,” he says.
2. Beware of foodies looking for freebies
Engaging with social-media influencers is a great way to get publicity, but it can be “a double-edged sword”, says Huynh.
“When it comes to social media influencers, you really have to screen—there are a lot out there who are just in it for the freebies,” he says.
“I’m not keen on the idea of free dinners for posts. I’m not in this industry to get free meals. I’m in this industry to make something of it.
“Unfortunately there’s a little bit of a culture of people rocking up to restaurants and telling owners they’re a food blogger, ‘give me stuff for free’. I know of two instances where restaurant owners were threatened with a bad review unless they were let in for free.”
And don’t be fooled by crowds. “It’s been well documented how easy it is to buy fake followers,” Huynh says. “A better strategy is to actively seek out a few influencers with slightly smaller accounts than one person with a huge account.”
3. Regular customers are social media influencers too
“It’s all fine and well getting a professional with a big Instagram account to come in and take a few photos and put it on their platform, but if one in 10 of the average people coming to your restaurant can Instagram your food beautifully, that’s so much better,” Huynh says.
4. Make your food camera-ready
“People don’t want to post bad photos. So if you want your food to get Instagrammed a lot, or put on social media a lot, make it look good,” Huynh says. “If you can figure out a way to present your food so that you can take a photo of it from nearly any angle on your phone, that’s half the problem solved.”
But he warns not to sacrifice the rest of the dining experience just to be Instagrammable. “From a true foodies’ perspective, it’s horrible. Why would I want to go to a place that just overdoes everything just for the sake of an Instagram photo?” he says.
“People value their Instagram shots that much that it’s definitely a good business move, and there’s a lot of restaurants out there being financially successful from doing it, but it’d be much better if they could actually deliver on flavour and the experience and everything that a good restaurant should be as well!”