They call it “foodstagramming”, 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 smartphone 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.
While such bans are rare in the UK – photography is discouraged at The Ivy, but mainly to ensure the privacy of its celebrity clientele – some leading British chefs say they share the frustrations of the US counterparts.
“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 in Birkenhead.
“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. He claimed 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”. Though generally pleased by the photos of his dishes that appear on social media, he said he’d seen “some pictures that don’t do the food justice”.
However, some chefs derided the “primadonna” 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 and 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. “It’s not like you’re taking a photo of Venice, it’s a plate of food.”
For David Williams, who writes the influential food blog The Critical Couple, any attempt to prohibit 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 really blasé about your eating experience not to.” And what of chefs complaining of bad photos? “Good food photographs well,” he said, “bad food photographs badly”.