Should restaurants ban “food stagrammers”?

What’s wrong with this picture?

pizza at Franco Manca

The pizza at Franco Manca, in case you’re interested

According to some, the fact that it was taken of my meal in a restaurant means it is an affront to proper dining.

Lately there’s been a debate raging on the appropriateness of “foodstagramming” — taking pictures of your food and sharing them on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, G+ or other social media — kicked off by an article in the New York Times. The question is: Should foodstagramming be banned in the UK?

Some restaurants in New York City have already outlawed food photography. Some British chefs are trying ban cameras in their restaurants too, according to the Telegraph. This debate is ostensibly about the manners of the people taking the pictures. And hey, I’m sympathetic to chefs who describe the disruptive experience of patrons hauling out a digital SLR and tripod-mounted light and snapping away to capture every course.

Chef Michel Roux Jr of Le Gavroche abhors the practice of taking pictures of one’s food (except, um, when he’s doing it for his daughter, who is training to be a chef) and in the Telegraph article compares it to snapping photographs during a theatre performance.

Some chefs complain the picture-taking interrupts conversation and the meal’s flow (something that could also easily be said about an ill-timed joke, a visit the loo or a revelation about what really happened at the office party).

In my experience, here in the UK foodstagramming is not near as pervasive as in the States, so I have yet to see anyone in the middle of a restaurant circling to a great shot, standing on a chair or using distracting flash.

 

glass of homemade lemonade

The homemade lemonade at Honest Burger in Brixton. No fellow diners were hurt in the taking of this photograph

But even after reading all this coverage I’m not ready to put away my iPhone just yet.

Naturally if you take a picture in a restaurant with other patrons around, you should be unobtrusive and courteous so you don’t mar the dining experience for others. If you want the picture to look half-decent, you should forego flash. And if you’re snapping away while the other person at your table is tapping their toe and holding their fork at the ready, you’ll want to take their feelings in to account too, otherwise there goes next week’s invitation.

Yet the nasty element of this “debate” is its blatant snobbery, which breaks down into 3 main trains of thought:

1. These dang Instagrammers need to just sit down, shut up and do what they’re told, which is to say, enjoy the meal in a prescribed way.

2. Just who do they think they are: William Eggleston? “Just because the picture looks artsy doesn’t mean you are,” tuts a writer in McSweeney’s, who says that these photos are just a way to brag about one’s awesomeness.

3. What makes their life so special that they have to share every little detail — like, for instance, an eye-catching delicious meal?

I’d characterize the anti-foodstagramming sentiment this way: How dare these people take pictures they find attractive of their food, and share them with other people, who follow them precisely because they like these type of pictures!

What chefs, restaurateurs and a certain sliver of the restaurant-going public/media are really lamenting is the end of one kind of dining that marches in lockstep with the chef’s singular vision, and the beginning of another that’s more interactive and participatory for the diner.

Many of these folks have failed to fully appreciate the power of a subtly-taken, beautifully presented and enthusiastically shared picture out to thousands of appreciative followers, and how beneficial that can be to promoting quality food at restaurants large and small.

red velvet cupcakes

If this Instagram picture offends you, look away now

Chris Pople, of popular food blog Cheese and Biscuits, weighed in on the debate this way:

…There will always be morons lurking out there ready to spoil your evening, but it takes more than an iPhone and a WordPress account to make a social menace; plenty manage it with little more than the force of their own personality….Any sensible restaurant should welcome food blogs, Twitpic and Instagram as yet more ways of getting the word out about the great service they provide, mementos of good food, good times and good company. So be considerate, be sensible, and carry on snapping away, one and all. You have nothing to be ashamed of.

If you love letting people know what you’re eating at the moment, go ahead and get out that smartphone.

Just one word of wisdom: For heaven’s sake, turn off the flash.

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About Jennifer Howze

Jennifer Howze is the co-founder of BritMums. She blogs about travel, family and London life at Jenography.net. Previously, she wrote the Alpha Mummy blog at The Times and as a journalist has contributed to The Times, The Guardian, The Independent, The Wall Street Journal, Travel & Leisure, Budget Travel, CNN.com, Allure, SELF and Premiere, among others. She won The Maggie Award from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America for a health article in Seventeen magazine.

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34 Responses to Should restaurants ban “food stagrammers”?

  1. Susanna 24 February 2013 at 10:08 #

    Ha! I just did this last night (but it was for a Pizza Express competition encouraging you to do so).

    Great post, food for thought, and I hope it does not get banned, I love taking food pics.

  2. Helen 24 February 2013 at 19:09 #

    Seriously??
    I’m not surprised they don’t like it in Le Gavroche. Some of the nicest food I’ve tasted, served by some of the most patronising waiters I’ve ever experienced. My £400 meal was not worth photographing on the basis that I felt I wasn’t good enough to be there.

    • Jennifer Howze 24 February 2013 at 23:40 #

      I’ve never been but have heard raves about the food. Too bad that often restaurants with great food mistake snootiness with elegance and formality.

  3. Jacqueline 24 February 2013 at 20:53 #

    I’m with Helen re: Le Gavroche with similar experience. As long as people are discrete about it I love the fact they’re enthusiatic about food and want to share (aren’t we always telling our children it’s good to share). Much rather have someone taking a pic than someone texting and playing computer games at the next table to me which happened at Chez Bruce in Wandsworth which is ONE of the nicest restaurants in London. We were mortified and so was the poor guys girlfriend.

    • Jennifer Howze 24 February 2013 at 23:41 #

      Oh dear – texting during a meal. That’s ridiculous. It reminds me of a story when one time…oh wait, I just got a message. Hold on while I respond…

  4. HerMelness Speaks 25 February 2013 at 07:10 #

    Sad to hear about the disappointing La Gavroche experiences. Have never had a bad time there. But isn’t that the beauty of social media in our world today? Establishments have to keep an eye on their game (so to speak) because word of mouth by social media is faster than the speed of light.

    I must admit, I have never even thought about taking a picture of my meal, albeit my children do it when they have been impressed with what they have been served.

    As always, discretion in everything serves everybody well. Ok, enough with the food metaphors! Bon appetite. HMSx

  5. Amanda 25 February 2013 at 15:59 #

    I can’t believe this is even an issue!

    I can understand getting upset if someone set up some huge professional camera to take a photo of their meal, interrupting other diners, but a photo snapped on a phone!

    It seems to me restaurant’s and chefs are worried about bad publicity, perhaps they should concentrate on getting the dishes right in the first place!

    • sarahhillwheeler 25 February 2013 at 20:28 #

      I agree, total snobbery. Provided the snapper is unobtrusive, where’s the harm? It seems to me too that fear of bad publicity is at the root of this….

  6. Ness Gorton (@baggiesbabe69) 25 February 2013 at 18:03 #

    I’m lucky I’ve got a fab camera that doesn’t need a flash seemingly regardless of how dark it it & it’s coming out with me tonight when we go for our meal……. run’s off to charge it up!

    I can understand chef’s & restaurants getting upset if people are moaning about their food & that should be taken up with the restaurant at the time, but surely they should take it as a compliment that we want to share our experience with others.

    I know there is 1 website that is being slatted for seemingly only having bad reviews on & for some people if they’re not complaining they’re not happy.

    If I’ve had a great meal I’m going to shout about it, if it was bad I will let the restaurant try to rectify it before I tell the world about it!

  7. Babes about Town 25 February 2013 at 18:04 #

    Great post, and love the pics by the way. I can see how it would get up people’s noses if all you did was sit around snapping your dinner. But most of us take quick and discreet pics of dishes, and for me anyway, usually it’s because I’m blogging about it – hence giving positive promotion to said establishment.

    Sometimes I snap a pic just because the food served up is a work of art and I want to savour it later. Isn’t that the ultimate tribute to the chef?

    Next thing they’ll be after food bloggers! *mutter* *grumble*

  8. Milly 25 February 2013 at 18:05 #

    I think lots of us are guilty of this but I have to put up with it more than most as my other half is a food blogger!

  9. Elaine Livingstone 25 February 2013 at 18:08 #

    I quote so I have yet to see anyone in the middle of a restaurant circling to a great shot, standing on a chair or using distracting flash.

    guess you have not been to a food bloggers conference or a tasting evening….had to laugh as the bloggers stuck out a mile….shoot before you eat.

  10. Expat Mum 25 February 2013 at 18:17 #

    I’m not a foodie and don’t really understand the urge to photograph one’s meals, but each to his/her own. The only photos I ever see are from people raving about whatever it is they’re eating. If you’re discreet about photographing it, there surely can’t be a problem? I’d rather sit behind someone with a camera than a loud mouth!

    • Jennifer Howze 05 March 2013 at 12:23 #

      Aw c’mon! Surely you’ve photographed the odd cocktail or fancy pudding from time to time?

  11. Reluctant Housedad 25 February 2013 at 18:34 #

    Well said, Jennifer. Food is for sharing, Me and some other dads meet once a month for a Dads’ Dining Club, where we rate our experience and (subtly) take photos of the food. Two weeks ago we went to a restaurant and the owner was so delighted with the review he invited us back for a special treat. These sharing shots are great PR for restaurants, espcially at a time when so many are folding. Perhaps the ones that are banning photos are the ones who fear their food isn’t up to scratch.

    • Jennifer Howze 05 March 2013 at 12:24 #

      Sounds like a cool evening out. What a great idea.

  12. Emma Clement 25 February 2013 at 18:46 #

    I did giggle at the bit about chef’s being concerned that snapping a pic on your phone might disrupt the flow of conversation. I’d say, most people have been briefly pausing their conversations when waiters place their food in front of them for years … Even before smart phones can you believe!

    On my first trip to NY, we dined in a beautiful and special restaurant and snapped a few photos of the lovely food, but it certainly didn’t ruin our meal… Infact, right after pudding, my Hubby proposed to me! It was a surprise and I’m glad we’d stopped for the few seconds it took to take those photos!

    Infact, come to think of it, I don’t know anyway who’s had their meal ruined by someone taking a photo of food (or even photos of people enjoying their evening/birthday/reason for being in a restaurant) whether it be at their table or a neighbouring one.

    A lot of fuss and attention over nothing.

    • Jennifer Howze 05 March 2013 at 12:26 #

      That hasn’t happened to me yet when I take pictures of my food, but here’s hoping!

  13. Han 25 February 2013 at 19:24 #

    Some of the pictures are my way of enjoying it without putting on the calories (she say having tucked into a chicken and bacon burger – less calories then pasta and chicken how does that work?!? And considering desert.

  14. Michelle 25 February 2013 at 19:49 #

    I could understand if someone is getting all up in everyone’s faces with a big old camera and flash, but since instagram usually comes from phones, in my experience it’s quite a discreet thing (it is for me!) I blog about restaurants we go to and taking a quick snap of the food is part of that :D We eat with our eyes as well as our mouths, and when blogging about an establishment it’s good to have that visual for my readers!

    What if you were there with family for a celebration, would these restaurants ban you taking photos then? Tosh I say!!

  15. Afra 25 February 2013 at 21:50 #

    I love “food porn pics” and look forward to seeing what my friends are eating too. We live in a wealthy village in the Home Counties and its almost de rigour now to show appreciation of your hosts efforts at dinner parties by taking a quick iPhone snap and posting it on social media!

  16. Jo Kelly 25 February 2013 at 22:28 #

    Hmm, surely it’s good and more importantly, FREE publicity. The only reason for restaurants to be worried is if they’ve got something to hide, like the possibility of bad food.

  17. Chris Reid 26 February 2013 at 00:25 #

    I can`t see why anyone would have a problem with a person taking photos of the food on your table that you have paid for. As everyone else is saying it is often just with a phone camera which is hardly in your face. How would they police it anyway `sorry we have just cooked your expensive meal but now you have taken a photo get out`
    I would think they couldn`t afford to ban people for something so trivial.

  18. Jo Bryan 26 February 2013 at 09:27 #

    I take photos of food for reviews, mystery shopping, (with a digital largish camera) where I have to do so, also occasionally if the meal just looks so good I want to remember it or share it with friends to make them jealous.

    I have seen pictures and visited based on seeing them, so I believe its great publicity for a restaurant.

    I feel that loud obnoxious people sharing their entire conversation with the room is more annoying, I would like to see those practices banned. Similarly people who talk loudly on their phone, or even play games.

    A person snapping their meal seems so unobtrusive when I have even noticed. How daft,love the pictures and disclaimers!!

  19. Emma 26 February 2013 at 11:54 #

    If we are paying for a service in a restaurant (i.e. they cook and serve me food) then whether I want to take a picture of my meal or eat it standing on my head (not that I could) is completely up to me surely? And if the picture taking is done discretely I don’t see why people have a problem with it… Restaurants often get free advertising if someone writes a rave review and include a couple of pics after all don’t they?.

    If I feel comfortable doing it and I am not annoying anyone else, then yes I will take a photo or two if I feel like it. But if I don’t feel comfortable, i.e when we went to NOMA (because the chefs were watching so eagerly to see whether the diners were enjoying the food, I would have felt stupid), then I don’t do it, and come away wishing I had!! :D

  20. Sasha Kerr 27 February 2013 at 08:33 #

    My friends still shudder at the days when I first set up my blog (about things to do in London) as I’d take ages taking photos of our food before we were allowed to eat it! I agree it can interrupt the flow of dinner.

    That’s not to say there isn’t that legitimate moment of food porn, when something gets put in front of you that just makes you go WOW where a photo really is the only way to capture the moment.

    Taking hundreds of photos of every course of a tasting menu is a bit OTT though. It’s also dull – you can get the flavour of a place through just one awesome photo. I’ve also seen a food blogger (who shall remain nameless!) at Meatwagon with SLR, clicker and lights taking photo upon photo of his meal – he not only looked ridiculous, it seemed he had forgotten the purpose of his being there – to enjoy the bloody food!

    Good choice of restos here btw – Franco manca and honest burgers both favourites of mine!

    Sasha @ The Happy Baby Project (and The Happiness Project London)

    • Jennifer Howze 28 February 2013 at 16:08 #

      Sasha, exactly! You don’t want to spend so long snapping pics that your food gets cold.

      Jen

  21. Ojos World 27 February 2013 at 16:12 #

    I hate the snobbery that goes with this! I rarely go out to dinner, so when I do, and its a delicious looking meal, I want ot snap it and share it. Surely this is good for business, especially when these pictures get shared so much x

  22. Robin Houghton 27 February 2013 at 18:45 #

    I do sometimes feel self conscious about taking pics with my phone, only because it holds people up from eating because they wait politely to start when I’m ready. Sometimes I’m being a ‘mystery diner’ and when that’s the case I’m usually required to take pics as part of the report. But I can’t see how it inconveniences people on other tables, if done discreetly.

    • Jennifer Howze 28 February 2013 at 16:06 #

      Fascinating — being a mystery diner. I wonder if some restaurants don’t want pictures being taken because it broadcasts what they’re doing to the competition.

  23. Jody Brettkelly 28 February 2013 at 18:08 #

    Hi Jen, thanks for this – just linked to you on my blog, quoting your very sensible sum up. I am the worst of the worst – I actually take loads of pics and then never post them as my photography makes the food look so yuck! Apparently there is some app I can use to clean them up. Drink and (some) desserts look OK, but stews and meat – forgetaboutit!

  24. Michelle Garrett 02 March 2013 at 09:53 #

    I am a rubbish food photographer so I don’t tend to do this but so long as people are discrete I see no problem with it! It’s flattering, I would think. I tend to take discrete photos of the place, rather than the food. Probably because I am generally more interested in seeing interesting locations than interesting food.

  25. Emma 17 October 2013 at 16:36 #

    I do admit it can be quite annoying. I’m a piggy and when the food arrives at my table I want to dig in straight away and not wait 10 mins until my mate has photographed her burger from all angles. I do agree though that it’s probably not as crazy in the UK as in the US. I recently read this post about the death of it which I found quite interesting: http://www.newscertain.com/2013/01/29/the-end-of-foodstagramming/