Scrolling through @eatdrinkclt on Instagram will make you hungry for burgers, pizza, sushi and fries. It’ll also make you want a margarita from Pacos Tacos and Tequila, a tuna melt from The Common Market and a slice of Ooey Gooey Butter Cake from Firebirds Wood Fired Grill. Is your stomach rumbling yet?
The account was created by 27-year-old Allie Papajohn, a self-taught Instagrammer with a degree in journalism and public relations from the University of South Carolina. In addition to running @eatdrinkclt, she also works full time in marketing at Bojangles’ corporate office.
Papajohn started the account when she moved to Charlotte in November 2014. As she ate her way around the city’s booming restaurant scene, she snapped pictures of everything she tried. She didn’t want to post them on her personal Instagram, so she made a separate account just for food and drinks and, at the time, just for fun.
Fast forward four and a half years and @eatdrinkclt now boasts over 47,000 followers. It’s one of the most-followed food and drink accounts in the area, and restaurants all around the Queen City (and beyond) are flooding Papajohn’s inbox asking her for coverage.
I recently sat down with Papajohn at Amélie’s French Bakery & Café in Carmel Commons (7715 Pineville-Matthews Road) to preview its summer menu and pick her brain about life as an Instagrammer.
When did you notice you were gaining a lot of followers?
After I hit 1,000 or 2,000 followers, that’s when it started growing really fast. I remember one day hitting 10,000 and I was just like, how did that happen? Honestly, it was unintentional. I was always posting, always trying to engage, always liking other people’s photos. So I think it was partly being on there so consistently and partly because there weren’t many food Instagrams to follow when I started. Being on there consistently has been huge. I’ve never stopped in four years. I’ve never taken a week off. I’ve barely even taken three days off of posting.
What sets @eatdrinkclt apart?
I only post food. I don’t post any lifestyle shots or photos of me, so when you follow, I think you know what you’re getting. You’re not going to see me posing on a wall because I don’t do fashion. I don’t do fitness. It’s just strictly food. There aren’t as many accounts that are just strictly food, which is not a bad thing, but if you just want to look at food, you can follow me for that.
From a personal standpoint, does the work to maintain the account and the pressure to always be posting ever get to you?
Absolutely. Having a full-time job makes it really hard to get everything in. Obviously, a couple years ago, this was much easier to handle, but now that it’s turned into kind of a side business … I fill up almost every night of the week with something, and if I’m not doing something, it’s because I said no and just wanted to go home after work. I’ve made it work, but it’s certainly getting exhausting sometimes. I always say if I didn’t love it I wouldn’t do it anymore, and so far I have not wanted to stop.
Why do you love it?
I love eating, first and foremost. I like exploring new food. I don’t have a picky bone in my body when it comes to food. Oh, macaroons! (Joannah Long, Amélie’s marketing manager, had just placed a colorful plate of macaroons on the table). Being a resource when people ask me or send me messages like, where should I get this? Where should I go for this? What part of town? I love answering those messages. A lot of times, off the top of my head, I know where to get what you asked for. I think that’s a huge part of it for me, just being able to help people in Charlotte when they’re looking for stuff, especially since there are new restaurants every five minutes.
Have you noticed any drawbacks?
Just how social media works, like algorithms. One minute you will post something that does super well and a ton of people see it, and the next day you’ll post something that looks just as good and get half the engagement on it. That’s tough when you start charging because you might charge a restaurant to post a burger and then you post it and it does terrible. Then the next night, you post something you just ate on your own and it does great. So, it’s frustrating when someone is paying you because you obviously want the best results for them.
When did you start charging restaurants for Instagram posts?
Basically January 2018. I was honestly terrified to start monetizing, which is one reason I waited so long to do it. I felt guilty at the thought of charging restaurants when they were already offering free meals, but when I sat back and looked at how much time and money (gas/tips/etc.) I was spending on this, I knew I needed to make the jump. A few of my friends in this space encouraged me and kind of coached me through it, and I’m super thankful for that. I also had support from restaurant owners that I was already basically working with, and that made it all seem less scary, too.
Do you really eat all of the food you post?
I don’t cook. I’m either going out to eat or eating leftovers from something that week. I have leftovers from three different places in my fridge this week. It’s ridiculous. Everything you see, I’ve either eaten the whole thing or a bite of it. So I can say that I can vouch for all of the food and I’ve actually tried it. Which is good because why would you post something you can’t stand behind or wouldn’t recommend to somebody?
What are the keys to a good Instagram post?
Making sure the photo is clear, not blurry, trying not to over filter anything. I actually used to use filters for a long time and now I edit in an app called Snapseed. Then I put it in Instagram and will sometimes brighten, always sharpen and then I’ll add a slight filter only rarely now. I go for the good lighting so I don’t have to do that anymore. Hashtags really do help. I stopped for a while and I feel like when I added them back in, it was huge. Caption-wise, I think just being yourself and giving people more information than just: here’s a burger, enjoy. Talk about what’s in it, what you had and what the experience was like.
How has your content evolved since you started this account?
I go back and look at my old pictures all the time just to laugh at them. I’ve gotten way better at photography. I always enjoyed it but was never great at it. Now I feel like I have some skill in that area. Phone developments have helped. When I started, I had an iPhone 4, so the camera quality has gotten better since then. I’ve just had so much practice. I seriously take a food photo every day, whether it’s for work or for this. Inspiration, too. Following other people and seeing what they do and what works for them has been really helpful. I’m always learning.
What’s keeping you from making Instagram your full-time job?
I think just being insecure about it lasting. I don’t want to get to a point where Instagram is irrelevant, which it very much could be in a year. I do write for Charlotte Agenda, Scoop Charlotte and some other freelance opportunities now that bring in money. The key would be to have all those other things bringing in income, too. I would never just rely on my Instagram because you never know what the next social media platform is going to be, and if it’s something completely different that has nothing to do with what I like to do, then how am I going to make that work?