By now you've probably noticed that I spend a lot of time (and money) in your restaurants as a customer. I do so because it's simply what I like to do. But there's also plenty of fodder to be had for this column by simply taking a seat. And recently, I've been noticing a lot more camera-toting customers at tables near me. Not those who are snapping photos of their pals at birthday celebrations, but people who are taking photos of their food. If I were you, I'd be a little freaked out about that.
Some of those taking pictures are probably doing so to document their meal for friends. Maybe it's their way of saying, “I ate at so and so restaurant and you didn't!” Others are surely snapping away because they have some sort of food blog. This is where it gets scary. Every customer is a critic, but those with blogs are critics with reach. Critics, I might add, that may be wholly unqualified to represent themselves as an expert. Plus, how well are they really representing your food with a cheap camera and low lighting?
The subject came up in a recent issue of Bon Appetit, where a reader asked for restaurant editor Andrew Knowlton's opinion of this growing trend. Here's a part of how he responded:
“Photographing food has become such a sport that some restaurants have banned the practice. They say it delays tables and leads to cold dishes. Forbidding food photography altogether is going a bit too far, but I can sympathize with chefs and restaurateurs. So to all you amateur food photographers: Take your photos quickly, never use a flash (or a tripod), and remember why you (and your guests) went to the restaurant in the first place … to eat.”
Do some operators really ban customers from photographing their food? That's a delicate issue. You risk offending an influential customer, particularly one who is being discreet and delicate about the process. On the other hand, while some restaurants have issues with bloggers taking photos, others actively court them, according to a recent New York Times article.
Deborah Smith, the owner and editor of Jersey Bites, says she frequently gets invitations from restaurants that have p.r. agencies. Her blog contains reviews, recipes photos and interviews, and apparently some restaurant owners want her as a friend and not a foe. In that same article, Lorenzo Catlett, the gm of Bistro 55 in Rochelle Park, NJ, says he reads the food blogs and sometimes offers gift certificates to compensate bloggers who had an issue with a meal.
So tell me, is there a growing number of customers in your restaurants taking photos of food? And, if so, is it a problem? Do you have a policy about picture taking? Have you implemented a ban? Have you seen pictures of your food on a blog, and what did you think? And what are your thoughts about actively courting bloggers to win them over? Email me your thoughts on the subject.