London - They call it “foodstagramming” – after the online photo-sharing site Instagram – and it’s the curse of modern dining.
Restaurant-goers who were once content to enjoy the flavours of their meals now seem unable to enjoy their evening without taking photographs of every dish and uploading them onto Facebook or Twitter.
But now chefs are fighting back. Tired of seeing customers setting up camera tripods on their tables, or slapdash iPhone photos portraying the food in a bad light on social media, top New York cooks have banned photography in their premises.
“It’s hard to build a memorable evening when flashes are flying every six minutes,” Michelin-starred chef David Bouley told The New York Times. At the three-starred Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, pictures are banned altogether.
Esquire magazine also recently called for food photography at restaurants to be banned, saying it is distracting for “who you’re with”, “the other diners” and the “chef”.
It adds: “It chills the food. That chef just painstakingly prepared a delicious hot meal that... needs to be eaten now. That’s not even just courtesy and respect. That’s thermodynamics.”
But readers commenting on the article vehemently disagreed with its point of view, calling it “pretentious” and “snobby”.
While such bans are rare in the UK, some leading British chefs say they share the frustrations of their US fellows.
“One table told us they wanted to be moved because it was too dark to take photographs of the food,” said Marc Wilkinson, chef patron at the Michelin-starred Fraiche.
“It can affect the atmosphere at the table if you’re stopping at every course to take pictures, tweet or upload. I wouldn’t choose to do that, but it’s their own personal choice.
“It’s similar to when you go to the museum and you see people going from corridor to corridor without looking at anything. They look at the whole gallery through a lens.”
And camera phones aren’t the only weapon in the food blogger’s armour. Wilkinson said his front of house staff were recorded to see if what they said “matched up to the food that came out”.
Tom Aikens, who runs Tom Aikens Restaurant in Chelsea, said that if his premises were smaller and more intimate, he would be tempted to impose a ban because it can “disturb the dining experience”.
Although pleased with most photos of his dishes that appear on social media, he said he’d seen “some pictures that don’t do the food justice”.
Some chefs derided the “prima donna” Big Apple restaurateurs and their pretentious photo policies.
Aiden Byrne, who won a Michelin star at the age of 22, said there would be no such ban at The Church Green in Cheshire.
“What are you going to do?” he said. “Start taking phones off people as they walk through the door?
“If you put yourself out there and promote yourself on social media then you have to accept it could bite you on the a***. I’ve been on the receiving end of people putting bad pictures on (the internet), and I was upset – but you take it out on yourself, not the customer, because you’re the one who is creating the product.”
Simon Rogan, of L’Enclume in Cumbria, said the New Yorkers “must have great ideas about themselves”.
Angela Hartnett, chef patron at Murano, admitted to being a foodstagrammer herself, but warned against diners getting carried away. “You’re not taking a photo of Venice – it’s a plate of food.”
For David Williams, who writes the influential food blog The Critical Couple, attempting to ban photos is akin to “trying to hold back the tide”.
“When we went to Noma (in Copenhagen), every table had a camera – you would have to be blasé about your eating experience not to (have one).” And what of chefs complaining of bad photos? “Good food photographs well,” Williams said. “Bad food photographs badly”. – The Independent