What’s with all the food snaps? Is it a case of shooting to kill the dining experience? Matt Preston brings food bloggers and Instagrammers into focus.
OVER THE past few years chefs have been called everything from precious and pretentious to total prats for banning diners from taking photos of their creations in restaurants. Chefs argue that this ‘no photos please’ attitude comes from spending months crafting a dish and thousands of dollars professionally shooting it to create the best image for the restaurant only for us to spend a few seconds capturing it and then posting our dodgy amateur efforts for the world to see – even if it makes the dish look rubbish.
While I’m tempted to call the wambulance here, this point opens up a discussion about whether posting food on social media skews online adoration towards pretty dishes rather than the tastiest. This is perhaps why desserts and cakes generally attract more likes than savoury dishes – one look at Instagram shows you that too much of the time it’s a matter of shooting style over substance.
Then there’s the frustration from chefs who have timed the cooking of dishes so they arrive simultaneously at the table in perfect condition only to look on as the table turns into a frenzied paparazzi pack and the dishes get cold while everyone tries to get the perfect angle. Why does everyone need to shoot each dish? Couldn’t they share the photos? Or just post the professionally shot photo of the dish from the restaurant’s website? Yes, I agree this misses the point slightly.
More measured are the complaints that people shooting their lunch or dinner impacts negatively on the enjoyment of the other diners. This is certainly the case when you’re constantly using a flash at dinner or standing up and moving around the table looking for the right angle and the best light.
Often, though, there’s also a financial imperative at play here, one that restaurateurs rarely talk about on the record. Some gripe that bloggers and keen Instagrammers come in and only order the two most ’grammed dishes, drink only tap water and leave no tip. This not only makes them unpopular with the staff, but also means the table isn’t earning enough dollars when it could have been booked by bigger spenders. If they take ages shooting the food and sit at the table for too long it only compounds the loss. What’s that wambulance number again?
Lest we forget, however, chefs and restaurateurs are primarily in the business of making money to put food on the table for their families, and there’s no reason why profit should be a dirty word in the restaurant world or any business for that matter.
This obsession with shooting food, though showing signs of abating marginally, is a massive part of bragging about our lives on social media, so it seems we need to agree on a few basic rules for taking photos in restaurants to keep everyone happy. Then we can maintain the vital (but slightly questionable) role that pictures of your pudding takes in filling that online brag book and sharing places you love with other people who will love them, too, which surely is a good thing for chefs and restaurants.
• Be discreet when taking photos. • Respect the privacy of other customers and do everything you can to avoid damaging their experience. • Never stand up or stand on the furniture to take a ‘killer’ overhead shot. • Don’t use flash. Ever. • Don’t spend an age discussing the best angle. • Don’t disrespect the hard work of the kitchen with more than a few seconds’ delay before attacking your dish with your cutlery. • No tripods, long lenses or expensive large SLR cameras unless you are on assignment for a magazine, newspaper or other legitimate source that’s paying you for your photos and your time. In which case you would have asked ahead to take photos and the good places usually insist you take those photos outside service time so you don’t disturb the paying customers. • Take your photo quickly and without fuss and get on with the important matter – eating the thing. That, after all, is surely why you ordered it. • Sometimes the food will look shit – especially if you’ve used a flash – so don’t post it (unless it was a horrible dish and you’re prepared to explain why). • If posting photos of what you eat is part of wanting to be a credible independent food voice, then don’t post dishes you’ve been given for free or paid to write about unless you declare it. Avoid shoddy, shady #sponcon deals or ending up in the biting #Couscousforcomment posts. • Don’t post at the table. Enjoy the company you’re with and the experience. It’s not a live sport. • Be a participant in the meal. • Follow the restaurant’s rules. If you’re unsure, you can always ask, but do this before you’ve ordered so you can still leave if you’re refused. • If you’re asked by a staff member to stop taking photos, comply with the request. Even though you’re paying you’re still a guest. If you stick with all these rules, however, this shouldn’t ever happen.