Restaurants banned smoking, then cell phones … now photo taking?

Dinner Time

Photo by gullevek via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Earlier this week, Helene Stapinski wrote a piece for The New York Times on how some restaurants are responding to the growing trend of diners taking photos of their meals. As she begins,

When it comes to people taking photographs of their meals, the chef David Bouley has seen it all. There are the foreign tourists who, despite their big cameras, tend to be very discreet. There are those who use a flash and annoy everyone around them. There are those who come equipped with gorillapods — those small, flexible tripods to use on their tables.

There are even those who stand on their chairs to shoot their plates from above.

“We get on top of those folks right away or else it’s like a circus,” Mr. Bouley said.

Bouley has a clever, generous solution (check out Stapinski’s article for details), but others aren’t so accommodating. For example,

Moe Issa, the owner of Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, said he banned photography several months after opening when it became too much of a distraction to the other diners at his 18-seat restaurant.

“Some people are arrogant about it,” he said. “They don’t understand why. But we explain that it’s one big table and we want the people around you to enjoy their meal. They pay a lot of money for this meal. It became even a distraction for the chef.”

Mr. Bouley said table photography “totally disrupts the ambience.”

“It’s a disaster in terms of momentum, settling into the meal, the great conversation that develops,” he said. “It’s hard to build a memorable evening when flashes are flying every six minutes.”

First world problems? Yes, but a photo prohibition seems like a choice a restauranteur should be able to make if she or he chooses, even it seems snooty.

I admit to a certain minor discomfort that I have when I find myself snapping photos for a blog post. I’m not one who relishes being an object of scrutiny, and however discreetly one manages to snap a pic (I’ve never stood on a chair!), the act does tend to draw a bit of attention. That said, I don’t generally find it that problematic when other diners feel compelled to document their dishes, though I’ve never seen anyone go quite as crazy as the Flickr junkies shown in the photo.

To hark back to yesterday’s post, I wonder whether the ban on photography, at least at high-end restaurants, is partly an attempt to speak a message about cultural capital, i.e., “If the occasion of your dining here is such a special event that you must memorialize it in photos, you are probably too low-brow to be dining in our fine establishment anyway.”

What say you, dear reader? Do you find your restaurant meals befouled by distracting food photogs at surrounding tables (or perhaps your own)? Or could you not care less? And is this just another of those occasional irritating examples of the NYT offering an article on a rather inane topic that might garner eyeballs on the web but makes little substantive contribution to social discourse? Please add your 2¢ in the comments.

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3 comments

  1. zazzman

    It’s only distracting when your partner does it or makes you do it. 🙂 I don’t think it’s that big of a deal if you’re discreet. I do feel bad if I shoot out a big flash and interrupt people. I try to limit it to one quick shot with my smartphone.

  2. the food fighters

    I agree–absolutely no flashes—it makes the food look gross anyway. But leave the tourists alone–they’re weird and they can’t help it.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about Molly Watson’s clever little chart (I printed it and hung it on MY fridge) and Pierre Bourdieu (getting Distinction is on my to-do list) and I do think this is a perfect reflection of high cultural/economic capital. Most Americans can’t afford to eat at places that would make such prohibitions. And the NYT should have better things to do than indulge this kind of elitism. The American food system is arguably in crisis because of the lack of social equity in this country. The rich eat real food and the poor eat processed, factory farmed food. This, in part, is why the poor are hit the hardest by America’s obesity epidemic. In France, however, despite social inequity, dinner in poor, middle class and wealthy households looks surprisingly similar. I wonder how Bourdieu would respond to this observation and to how extreme the cultural divide in the U.S. has become. It’s hard to imagine all Americans eating healthily, responsibly, and humanely. The rich think that it doesn’t matter if they waste food or indulge in eating habits that damage the environment. The poor don’t think it matters that they eat industrial food. In short, we suck way more than France did in 70s.

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