Follow Me Foodie: Should food photography be allowed?

At the 2nd First Harvest dinner at Willows Inn on Lummi Island.

Is it really that insulting to have a customer like your food so much that they want to share it with friends and family? Is it that bad that they want to remember the moments visually? And is it that damaging when they want to give your restaurant free advertising?

I thought I could leave it alone, but I can’t. The topic came up at 6 Course Discourse, a culinary forum I organized as part of Dine Out Vancouver. It featured talks from local chefs, including Scott Jaeger of The Pear Tree in Burnaby. He finished his presentation by imploring diners to “Eat it before you tweet it. Not the other way around.”

Since then, I’ve noticed more chefs speaking out about this so called “problem.” Read the full story.

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11 Comments

  • LotusRapper says:

    If I were the chef, or owner, of a restaurant, and my customers are crazily snapping pics of the dishes they ordered, I’d be very flattered, and probably want to join them and pose with the food 😀

    And even if they have negative things to say about the food, well it’s their opinion. If at the end of the day, their “consumption” in whatever form helps provide constructive feedback to me (as chef, owner, etc) to improve my restaurant, my products and services, then it’s a WIN-WIN game.

    But I can respect those who prefer customers tweet first then eat. However I don’t feel banning photography in restaurants has much useful outcome. But if other customers complained *at the time* for whatever reasons (ie: big group of food bloggers all snapping their flashes ….. you know those crazy types), then as management I may ask them to keep things as un-intrusive as possible.

  • Chef Robert says:

    As with any other rules or restrictions arbitrarily placed by establishments where one spends their money; I would vote with my feet. In other words, if the management has a problem with my documenting my dining experience via whatever media I choose; I would no longer support their restaurant. There are plenty of businesses that would welcome a new customer.

  • Jonathan says:

    What Scott seems to be missing is that you can’t tweet a photo of something AFTER you eat it. There is a race condition. The photo must come first or not at all.

    Otherwise I think there is an issue of being considerate of other diners and their experience. What the chef would prefer seems hardly relevant to me.

  • Ricky L says:

    I would say it should be fine if it’s not disturbing other guests, especially at more relaxed casual places. Fine dining I would say no because it is so dimly lit and you’d have to turn on the flash…who wants to be disturbed with hundreds of flashes going off when you’re spending $100++ on a meal ? anyways…i’d say do it !

  • Brian says:

    I think it should be allowed but not flash. As that’s really disruptive to other people.

  • hungrySLIF says:

    I take a few snaps, then the camera goes away and it’s just me and the plate. I tweet between courses, and if I’m in a fancier place, will actually do it in the washroom (same etiquette as taking a phone call as far as I’m concerned).

    Flash photography is a new old problem that’s come back. No problems if you’re taking a group picture of you and your friends (NOTE: singular, 2 at most), but no freakin’ way with the food. If there’s not enough light, boo hoo. Get a better camera or open your mouth and eat your meal, then go home and cry about it… then get a better camera.

    I have friends who use flash, or even use their phones’ lights in a collective attempt to light the dish. I don’t go out with them anymore.

    I have significant issues with chefs banning food photography though. At the end of the day, I’m paying money for this and your job is to feed me. What you can ban? Constant flash photography. That’s when an experienced service staff comes into play. If a table is going papparazzi crazy – walk over there and kindly explain their disruptive behaviour to the other guests. It’s the same play as dealing with an overly lubricated table.

    The other thing the service staff can do? When the plate is put down – explicitly say that it is temperature sensitive and should be eaten ASAP, or else the quality will be detrimentally affected. Ramen, eggs, fish…

    My two cents.

  • Panner says:

    I understand “no flash” or “silent mode” rules but no pictures? If it doesn’t disrupt anyone, why would you be offended? You have to be somewhat of a pretentious person to enforce this rule at your restaurant.

  • David Zilber says:

    I truly believe that the level (the deftness of technique, the commitment to perfection etc…) at which you operate dictates the angle at which to approach this concern. When you go to a theatre, be it a movie or a play, a ballet or an opera, you are kindly requested to put your electronic devices away. A, out of respect for your fellow viewers (disruptiveness is a legitimate concern at all levels of shared public interaction) and B, the factor I’m most concerned about, out of respect for the integrity of the artwork being observed. Why are cameras (not just flash photography) banned in museums? If the work is not yet out of copyright, there are concerns about the undue transference of authorship from the artist to the observer. A photo of an artwork can hang as an artwork itself, thieving the integrity away from the creator, and bestowing credit unto the observer…

    Getting back to my opening sentence. No one will argue that a shitty instagram of a sloppy pizza will constitute artistic theft, or even amount to a denigration of the reputation of the pizza joint… But what if you were a 24 seat, tasting only, fine dining establishment with a compliment of 12 cooks each working 16 hours a day? Would the impact of a shitty photo on instagram then carry some weight? I think it would. NOT in the respect of artistic theft, but rather in regards to artistic misrepresentation. THAT’s the clincher. THAT’s why chefs get so pissed off. Would you write home about The Fat Duck’s hot/cold tea if you took you 2 minutes to get the bokeh right? No, you’d have a pretty picture and lukewarm tea. That’s artistic misrepresentation by fault of the guest ruining their own experience. On the flip side, if you toiled for weeks to perfect a dish, and then during the rush of service kill yourself to ensure it’s perfection in delivery to the guest, would you not feel the least bit slighted at seeing a grainy, low lit, BAD photo of all your hard work floating around the internet? This is my main concern. The way food appears (and appeals) to a guest upon delivery embodies a whole set of sensory, and circumstantial criteria that impact them level untranslatable to an iPhone’s camera. If you ARE in fact operating at that high a level, it may well be just as detrimental to your reputation to have a shit photo of your food floating around as serving shit food. Perception is everything.

    Now, there’s no need to be a camera nazi in regards to the latter of these concerns. As with any problem between individual parties, compromise is oft the best solution. As a photographer myself (and film at that), I crave the perfection of vision. And when I only take one shot of something, I kick myself if I don’t get it right. That methodology translates entirely into the way I craft food, but moreover, how I’d (preferably) want the food to be perceived. Is it too much to ask to have guests check their phones at the door? Probably, yes. Is it too much to ask to ban photography in your restaurant, but simultaneously, as a courtesy, properly photograph (a white scape the size of a plate could easily be set up within a kitchen with a rig for a proper digital camera + flash to document the first trials of any dishes being created) all dishes on offer that night for your guest? And e-mail them a zip file if requested after their meal is complete? To have memories that are as beautiful as they tasted? The maintain the integrity of vision by the chef? To be less intrusive to guests around you? You may bring your own bottle out of your cellar to drink at a restaurant, but is it not a pleasure to have a sommelier decant, and serve it for you? Is that not what restaurants strive to do? Enhance the experience?

    This is but one way I see as an opportunity do just that where everyone involved on both sides of the experience wins in a nonzero sum game.

    DZ

  • Rayan R. says:

    I 100% agree with Brian. If you want to take photos fine (personally, I think in a fine dining environment, it is quite disruptive). However, if you must, go ahead.

    BUT

    Flash photography should never be allowed. It is incredibly disruptive to other patrons.

  • Kevin says:

    I think Chefs are just going to have to ‘suck it up’ & look away. (BUT they had better pay attention)
    THIS is the future of food. Not much will change in the kitchen, Chefs will do what they do best (besides complaining) BUT customers are going to become more interactive or ‘wired’ into/with their food.
    Technology is allowing us to have more of a voice and Chefs had better sit up & listen.

  • Yves Farges says:

    I do it all the time, around the world, because I am in the industry & am in awe of the work Chefs put into preparing and showcasing their talent for the diner.

    So much time is spend preparing the food and also plating it that the highest compliment in modern times is to capture that moment. Then eat it, of course, and logically after the plate is finished tweet it if you are into that or telling the front of the house how good the dish was so the Chef can be told.

    I photograph (no flash soas not to disturb other diners) discretely. A was recently talking to a Chef in San Francisco, describing an amazing dish I had in London based on pairing watermelon and yellowtail tuna, finishing up the conversation with the photo (it was stunning visually & the taste was sublime).

    The important thing is to be discrete. I remember being at a restaurant in New York and told not to take pictures. I was fine with that, any restaurant has the right to make rules, finished my meal quickly and left quickly. I cannot remember the name of the anti-photo restaurant and I think that alone make the point.

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