Taking Pictures Of Your Food In Restaurants: What Chefs Really Think

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My brother tweeted me an article last week from the N.Y. Times which said many upscale restaurants are turning a cold shoulder to cameras.  A couple days later, a bunch of other mainstream media sources reported in on the topic as well.

You’ve all seen it.  Heck, most of you have probably done it:  You’re at a nice restaurant.  A beautiful plate of skillfully prepared food is placed down in front of you.  You’re excited, so you take out your camera or smartphone to snap a photo.  Well, you may want to think again, as apparently some very high profile chefs and restaurants are starting to ban and/or limit photography in their restaurants.

There are two very divided camps on the matter of food photography in restaurants.  Some say its highly disruptive to the dining experience, bothering other patrons and messing up the flow of service.  The restauranteurs work hard to create a certain ambience, and whipping out your camera takes away from that vibe.

Others argue that they paid for their meal, and they should be allowed to do with it whatever they want.  Besides, isn’t sharing your food photos on one of the various social media outlets free publicity for the restaurant?  Just the other day I saw a friend post a picture of a dish he was eating from a restaurant I’ve been wanting to try, and that immediately reminded me to make a reservation.

And on the topic of being disruptive, isn’t it equally disruptive when someone’s cell phone starts ringing “Don’t Cha Wish Your Girlfriend Was Hot Like Me?” Or how about when a certain table next to you has one of those really loud, annoying talkers, so you end up having to enjoy their conversation the entire meal instead of your own.  Do we start banning cell phones all together?  How about loud talkers?

As a food blogger and frequent patron of restaurants, I’m divided on the subject.  Can photography be disruptive in a restaurant?  Absolutely, especially when the person is inconsiderate.  But is capturing those images of food something I really enjoy and part of the blogging process?  Totally.  It’s hard to talk about and discuss what a great meal I had and convince you why you should go there without any photos to back it up.  We do, after all, eat with our eyes first.

So who’s right?  And what do chefs think?  Is there some happy middle ground where we can all coexist?  I, of course, turned to the twitter-verse to ask some of the chefs I follow their opinion on the subject.

Many chefs have absolutely no problem with food photography in their restaurants.

Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian, frequent judge on Food Network’s Chopped and owner of upscale restaurants The National and Lamb’s Club:

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Chef Daniel Holzman and Michael Chernow, co-owners of The Meatball Shop:

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Next Iron Chef contestant and owner of Good Stuff Eatery, Chef Spike Mendelsohn:

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Executive Chef Michael Anthony of Grammercy Tavern, the upscale Michael White restaurant Marea, and Next Iron Chef Contestant Chef Eric Greenspan:

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Food photography is fine, just turn off the flash! 

Iron Chef Michael Symon, owner of several Cleveland restaurants and co-host on ABC’s The Chew:

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Chef Tom Colicchio, well-known for his role as head judge on Bravo’s Top Chef and owner of several upscale New York restaurants, as well as Justin Warner, who just won The Next Food Network Star competition and co-owner of Brooklyn’s Do or Dine.

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Before I had the chance to tweet Chef Mario Batali, I found that he already responded to the question from someone else:

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Chef Chris Santos, frequent judge on Food Network’s Chopped and owner of Lower East Side’s Stanton Social and Beauty and Essex: 

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Then there were a couple chefs that felt mixed on the subject. 

Chef Jehangir Mehta, Next Iron Chef contestant and owner of NYC’s Graffiti and Metaphor: 

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“Mostly good” is another way of saying: good except… I think he would be “all good” if diners followed the food photography tips I list below :)

And Chef Kerry Heffernan, who just recently competed on Top Chef Masters, isn’t a fan.

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So it seems that with the overwhelming majority of chefs being okay with us taking pictures of our food in their restaurants, feel free to snap away.  If you are planning on taking pictures at restaurants, here are some guidelines that I follow in order to get the best picture possible and to be a considerate, polite guest:

1) Do Not, Under Any Circumstance, Use Your Flash

steak and frites

Although you can’t tell from the hideous picture, this was actually a good steak frites from an upscale French restaurant in NYC.  The flash killed any hope for this picture.  Ask any food photographer and that’s the #1 lesson you learn: flash = bad food photos.  I learned that lesson quick.

And honestly, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a bite of food almost to my mouth when someone’s flash goes of in my face and I almost poke my eye out with the prongs of the fork.  Don’t use a flash.  It’s not cool.  Restauranteurs work hard to create a certain ambience in their restaurants.  Nothing ruins it faster than food paparazzi.

2. Natural Light Is Your Best Friend

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Now that you aren’t using your flash, you will need light.  Natural light leads to the best photographs.  Sit near a window if at all possible.

3) Find A Good Light Source if There’s No Natural Light

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If you are eating at night or in a restaurant that doesn’t have available natural light, try to sit at a well-lit table.  Well-positioned candles on the table can also be a helpful light source.

4) If There Isn’t Enough Light, Don’t Take a Picture

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It was so dark in this restaurant, the only photo I could get is this grainy, highly unattractive picture.  Totally not worth it.  I leave the camera in my bag if there isn’t enough light for a good photo.

5) Make it Quick and Don’t Make a Scene

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Be discreet.  Snapping a quick photo or two of your food without the flash is totally okay.  Just don’t turn your table into a photography studio.  If your camera makes noises as it’s taking a picture, go into your settings and turn everything to silent.  Be respectful of your fellow diners.

6) Ask for a Table Out of View

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I always feel awkward taking out my camera when I’m surrounded by a lot of other diners.  We sat at a table away from a lot of other guests, allowing me to feel comfortable taking this picture.  Request a table in a corner or section of the restaurant that doesn’t see a lot of  foot traffic.

6) Go During Lunch or Off-Hours

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If you go during lunch, you will have a lot of natural light to work with if you get a table by a window.  You will get much better photos this way.  Also, if you are planning on taking pictures of your food, you may want to consider staying away from prime-time dining hours.  There will be less people in the restaurant, allowing you to snap away without causing a distraction.

7) Ask Permission

If you are unsure if photos are allowed, ask your server.  They will definitely be able to let you know if there is a restaurant policy on food photography.

 

Comments

  1. says

    Those pics looks great – and your tips are super helpful. Oh, and the meatball shop’s response is what every chef should say. I think it’s an opportunity for free publicity!

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