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| Culture |

Cleo on South Beach Offers an Instagram Butler

Flaming halloumi
Flaming halloumi
Photo by Laine Doss
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Admit it — you have Instagram envy. 

It's the feeling when you look at a gorgeous photo of a burger or the perfectly placed ice-cream cone on your Instagram feed. You then attempt to take an alluring picture of your pasta primavera and it looks like a blurry shot of a worm farm. 

If your food-picture game leaves something to be desired, check out Cleo's Instagram Butler.

The South Beach restaurant has launched a free service that provides diners with waitstaff armed with the tools and tips to make your food photos worthy of a thousand likes.

Restaurant manager Maciej "Magic" Palubicki says the program is free to anyone who asks for it when they come in for a meal. 

The key to getting that perfect shot? It's all about the lighting, according to Magic. "The best food photos are taken under natural light, but that's not always possible," says the manager, who doubles as one of the Instagram Butlers.

Guests who opt to participate are provided with an LED ring light with three settings to achieve the perfect amount of light. In addition, Magic and his team provide handy tips, along with a helping hand to light your shot.

During dinner, your Instagram Butler can also suggest composition and angles for your shot and take a photo of you sipping your cocktail.

Cleo invited New Times to experience Instagram Butler, which started when Magic suggested a take on an Aviation for its lavender hues. Most menu items are photogenic, but flaming cheese always has a "wow" factor. Order the skillet halloumi ($18), and wait for the flames to rise before you snap your shot.

Other Instagram-worthy items are a colorful Greek salad ($11); the Impossible meatball tagine, made with vegan Impossible meatballs ($34); and a trio of kebabs ($31). As each dish arrived, our Instagram Butler did too — holding a light, moving plates around, and suggesting angles. 

Is the Instagram Butler a shtick? Of course it is. On the other hand, Cleo's food and surroundings are so picturesque, the program makes sense. And the Instagram Butlers flit around the restaurant so stealthily they don't interrupt diners not using the service.

In the end, did the Instagram Butler work? Sure. The light helped, and my dinner guest was delighted that her pictures improved. And because the service is free, why not try it the next time you're craving hummus and kebabs?

Here are a few tips from Patricia Trias, the food and beverage director for Blue Road, Cleo's parent company:

  • Try shooting the dish from different angles. Dishes like the halloumi are shot best from a 45-degree angle.
  • Don't hold your camera too close. Nothing screams amateur photography like a drink picture that looks more like a funnel than a highball glass because of the lens distortion that results from holding the camera too close and at an unflattering angle.
  • Style the shot. Some dishes might require a little rearranging. For example, the Moroccan fried chicken looks better when you prop one of the pieces atop the others and shoot it at a 45-degree angle. But be careful not to make it look too contrived. Also, be mindful of the background. Unless you have an amazing eye for table styling, the safest bet is to clear the table of all other objects, including the silverware.

Cleo South Beach. 1776 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-534-2536; sbe.com/cleosouthbeach.

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