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Neontrepreneur: Lauren Wax, Food Instagrammer behind Eats & The City
Have you ever wondered how exactly food Instagrammers do what they do? How they snag mouth-watering photos, are treated to free meals and get tens-of-thousands of followers? I invited my friend and star food ‘grammer Lauren Wax of Eats & The City to be this month’s Neontrepreneur and help demystify the world of social media eats. Read on to learn expert tips (plus real-life successes and challenges) of this NYC-based publicist by day, food ‘grammer by night!
Have you always had an entrepreneurial spirit? If so, can you share any early entrepreneurial endeavors?
I’ve been working from a young age — age 5 to be exact when I became a big sister! It was my first unpaid internship, but led to a big career in babysitting. I started babysitting in middle school through college for other families, and also worked at a clothing store during most of my school years.
When I graduated college from Boston University, I was super eager to start working right away and landed a job in Beauty PR. At that early stage in my career, I just wanted to learn and take in whatever skills/experience I could, so I could grow and potentially one day own my own PR Firm. Fast forward eight years later… I’m not sure if I want to have my own PR Firm — it’s a huge responsibility — but who knows what the future holds!
What drove you to launch Eats & The City and when did you launch it?
T’was the night before Christmas in 2015 (but really it was), and I had dinner with my now husband’s family at Han Dynasty on the Upper West Side (because that’s what Jews do on Christmas Eve, including Seth Rogen who sat right next to us). When we were walking back to our apartment from dinner, I was looking at menus in the window at other restaurants on the block (my favorite thing to do). I was raving to Jonny’s parents how “We need to go here!” “This spot has a Michelin Star!” “Heard they have great sushi!” “Let’s go here for my bday!” and Jonny’s mom said to me, “Lauren, you’re just like Carrie from Sex & The City, but for food! You should start a blog!”
I thought to myself, “Me? A blogger!? Who has time for that?” But as soon as I went home I searched to see if the URL eatsandthecity.com was taken and it wasn’t, so I immediately bought the domain! Then I got excited about it and made a website and the Instagram account. @Eatsandthecity was taken, but I was able to snag @eats.and.the.city, and the rest is history.
How long has it been a business and how has it evolved since the beginning?
I wouldn’t call it a business just yet. I do get free meals pretty regularly now and a sponsored post here and there, but not enough to make a living. I have an amazing job right now, still in beauty PR, and enjoy having the “double life.” It’s fun when I can bring in free lunch for my co-workers or invite my food blogger friends to beauty events. Since launching Eats & The City, my photos have definitely gotten better thanks to my light. I’ve also become much more controlling and won’t let friends go to events for me or send me their photos. I have my own aesthetic. I’ve also started to grow the confidence to be in photos more — which oddly perform better than some of my foodporn pics.
What does being a food Instagrammer actually entail and how does one make money doing it? Or is it just about eating for free (which totally adds up!)?
It’s a little bit of both. In full transparency, publicists and brands reach out to me, and I wish I had an intern to manage my Eats & the City inbox. Sorry food publicists! I will get back to you.
I think if this were my full time job, I would be more aggressive and reach out to brands more asking for sponsored posts. There are also a ton of apps where you can apply to campaigns and provide your ideal rate that you’d like to be paid, such as Popular Pays, Foodie Tribe, Palate Connect, AspireIQ (formerly RevFluence) and Brand Snob. I’ve used them once for a Hooters campaign, but you need to present your ideas as to why you are a good candidate and I really don’t have the time to apply/create the content if I am accepted. I am hoping I can make more time in the new year, but really am focusing on my full-time job at the moment.
What inspires you in regards to your business?
So much! Other food bloggers, chefs, traveling the world, my husband and my parents! I often look at other accounts to see where they are eating and what foods are most photogenic. Some of my favorite accounts are @eatingnyc, @diningwithskyler, @hungryobsession, @just_what_the_doc_ordered (also our BFFS!) and of course @questlovesfood. I love any restaurants by David Chang, Floyd Cardoz, Missy Robins, Andrew Carmellini, Daniel Humm, Bobby Flay and so many more! Like many, Anthony Bourdain was a huge inspiration to me, and his passing has inspired me to travel the world more than ever. My husband and I just went to South Africa and Mozambique on our honeymoon and we have plans to go to Portugal, Chile & Peru this year, and then hopefully Japan in 2020!
How do you connect with restaurants and food businesses to collaborate on content?
Usually they will reach out to me via email or Instagram DM and then I’ll set up breakfast, lunch and dinner with them. Some of the same publicists work with many restaurants so it’s great to build relationships with them so they can continue to invite me in. I always post on stories and almost always post something on my feed. I am very honest in my food reviews; however, if I am invited in for a free meal and something isn’t presentable, doesn’t taste good or the service is awful, I will kindly inform the publicist and say I am not comfortable posting. This usually gives them the opportunity to apologize or invite me back in, and I am all for second chances. If I go to a restaurant on my own and one of the above things occur, I’ll be honest in my #foodtosexratio review and give the restaurant what I truly think it deserves.
Was there a moment when you felt like you’d “made it” in the food ‘grammer world? Or at least that you were truly on to something?
I don’t think “I’ve made it!” because there are so many food bloggers out there, and some have far more followers and better photos than mine. I do think I am on to something, and if I continue to work with brands and restaurants and continue to make connections they could definitely be a potential career one day. I did social media for a salad company last year, @GoodSeedSalad and was approached because they loved the photos on my feed. The good thing about being a food influencer is that there are so many restaurants in NYC and all over the world that need exposure, no matter how successful or established they are. The most hip, hard-to get-into-restaurant still needs exposure to help continue the buzz, while your hole-in-the-wall spots need to promote their newest brunch special.
What are the best and hardest parts about Eats & The City?
The hardest? Being healthy because healthy food performs pretty poorly on my feed (unless it’s an açai bowl or beautiful salad from Sadelle’s). I work out a ton — I am obsessed with CorePower Yoga! It’s also pretty tough to balance my full time job, which I started with a new company at back in May (while I was also planning a wedding). I really put all of my energy there the past 5 months or so, but am now finding balance!
The best is being able to share my love for food and restaurants with the world. My Instagram account has also helped me rekindle past relationships with those in the industry, and I think my friends like me more when I take them out to free meals. 🙂
What are your top 5 NYC restaurants?
I’m obsessed with trying the best pasta restaurants in NYC! In your opinion, which NYC restaurant has the best pasta?
What have been your most successful marketing & growth strategies?
Networking, engaging with other accounts whether it be on a hashtag, geotag or commenting on accounts/photos I genuinely think look great. I try to be responsive to publicists and post at least once a day! When I launched @eats.and.the.city I told anyone and everyone to follow me and always cross promote the account on my personal social media pages.
Which entrepreneurs do you look up to and why?
The girls at The Skimm – Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin, Jen Atkin, Sara Blakely, Eva Chen, Ellen Degeneres — they are all girl bosses who followed their dreams and are still able to have a work-to-life balance.
What is your dream project?
I’d love to work with some Michelin Star chefs or collaborate with Zagat or the Infatuation. I was actually on the Soho House food committee with Andrew Steinthal last year which was pretty cool! I also hope at some point I’ll begin to get invited to press trips and do more collaborations with tourism companies. I love merging food and travel because you get immerse yourself into other cultures. There was just a sick influencer trip to Indonesia for two weeks (not sure how I’d get that time off from work, but we’ll cross that bridge if I ever get there!!). It would be cool to partner with some of my favorite companies like Stella Artois, Patron, Amazon, Hershey, Trader Joe’s or Coca Cola.
Where do you see your business in 3-5 years?
I hope Instagram is still around in 3-5 years. I hope to get up to 100K followers at that point and have connections with the amazing brands I mentioned above. It would be cool to go on a trip with my husband that was completely paid for, except airlines rarely comp or even discount flights.
Based on your experience, what advice would you give food ‘grammers just starting out?
Be authentic. Get a light! Lighting is everything. Engage with other food bloggers and restaurants. Like their photos and draw attention to your page, but don’t overdo it!
A huge thank you to Lauren for sharing her valuable trade secrets with us! Be sure to check out her Instagram, @eats.and.the.city, and follow her for some of the most delicious eats NYC has to offer!
Check back next month for another insightful interview with our December Neontrepreneur!
Peace, love & neon,
Photos c/o of @eats.and.the.city