It used to be considered bad manners to take photographs in a restaurant. Now, it seems like everyone is doing it and some restaurants are beginning to put their foot down.
Recently, an article on the site of Australia's Herald Sun newspaper reported that Grossi Florentino, a smart Melbourne restaurant, had admonished a diner after it spotted her trying to take photographs of her lunch-time tortellini. "If the photographs aren't taken well or aren't taken properly, it can be very misrepresentative," said Guy Grossi, owner of the restaurant, adding, "pictures of half-eaten dishes can be misleading ... and there are other patrons dining, so we are very cautious and sensitive."
He's not the only restaurateur for whom dining photography is a touchy subject. In New York, David Chang of Momofuku Ko in East Village and César Ramirez, chef at Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare, have both banned photography in their restaurants and several other New York restaurants, while not quite adopting an out-and-out ban, keep a watchful eye on diners who may become too snap-happy.
But are they right to lay down the law in this way? Is taking photos really offensive to other diners? And does it matter if photos, taken by paying customers and shared online, are less than perfect? Not so long ago, I considered starting a food blog, but, not being a particularly keen photographer, was put off by the idea that I'd have to start taking pictures of everything delicious (or not-so-delicious) that came my way. It might, I worried, kill the pleasure of a good dinner or tempting snack if a grapple with my iPhone or camera preceded every first mouthful and I couldn't help but think that there would be something a bit embarrassing, a bit disruptive and, yes, a bit crass about taking pictures at the dinner table anyway.
That said, it seems extreme for restaurants to ban photography outright and, as a paying customer, I do feel that if I want to take a picture of my food and I'm not disturbing anyone else, then it is well within my rights to do so. At the same time, unless someone is actually taking photos of me while I eat, or is using flash photography in a way that is very thoughtless and disruptive to my own dining experience (so far, neither of these things have ever happened), then I have no problem with others taking pictures of their food - it's really their prerogative and my responsibility (not the restaurant's) to decide when it is getting tiresome.
When we posed this question to The Good Web Guide's followers on Facebook, those that responded agreed, with one commenting: "People take photos because they're embracing what they see and if a chef or restaurant owner doesn't like it then, quite frankly, they just don't know how to take a compliment, do they?" Restaurant PR, George Shaw of Avocado Media meanwhile actively encourages restaurant clients to allow photography, which he says are "probably destined for use on social websites and blogs" and "have got to be good publicity, assuming the person taking the pictures has enjoyed their meal."
For restaurants concerned about the quality of pictures being posted online, Shaw suggests that they offer to send professionally taken food and restaurant photos from their own stock, but this, in my view, is a waste of time. The fact is that what we see, do and hear offline is, these days, inexorably connected to that which we have seen, done and heard online and - whether we like it or not - cameras, mobile phones and people who wield them in restaurants are part of this. The likes of Chang, Grossi and Ramirez should stop being such control freaks and remember that - while their customers are quite capable of speaking up for themselves should a neighbouring diner start behaving inappropriately - a badly taken picture tends to reflect more poorly on the blog than it does on the restaurant, whose food, at the end of the day, is what speaks for itself.
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