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Foodie Moment

Photography Bans at Restaurants?

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I'm curious if eGullet members are seeing an increase in restaurants banning the use of cameras (even without flash) during meals. I dined at momofuku ko and Corton in New York City in May and was disappointed to learn that both banned photography. At ko at least they were honest about it - they said simply that it was policy. It was a bummer because I had purchased a Canon S90 high-end point and shoot (sweet f/2 lens, RAW files, great noise reduction) the day before just for this meal.

At Corton, the hostess said it was standard policy at many fine dining restaurants, and gave Alinea as an example. I called her on that as when we were at Alinea last year, photography was encouraged (at least by our head waiters). And certainly I've also been encouraged to take photos at WD-50, elBulli, and Mugaritz (they even turned up the lights for me at Mugaritz).

So, what I want to know is whether this really is a trend - the banning of photography - or if there are just a few high profile restaurants that have this policy, and it's isolated.

Especially important as I'm planning on being back in NYC in a few weeks and am working on reservations, ideally for places that allow photography (since my note taking skills suck).

And, as I am new here, can someone point me to a thread with NYC restaurant suggestions? :-)

Jake

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I haven't studied it as a statistical matter, but I do get the impressionistic sense that it's happening more often especially at high-profile, newly opened places.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I've heard some folks are annoyed by it, but never heard of it being banned. I've taken picture at French Laundry (the server actually opened the shades for me so I can have better lighting - I didn't even ask, he just noticed I was taking pictures), Joel Robuchon, Guy Savoy and many other fine dining establishments. It's always been fine as long as we're not being intrusive to other customers. We always have the flash off.

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There are a lot of thoughts about this, and each restaurant is different.

If the photograper is oblivious to his neighbors, it becomes a sore issue for his neighbors, which usually results in poor tipping......

If the photographer takes precautions it becomes an advertising bonus for the place.

If the Chef or owner has "been around" they are aware that once a photograper takes a picture, that image becomes the photograper's property, to be used/abused as they wish.

On the other hand, the diner has paid for his meal. Kinda like buying a car and taking as many pictures of it as you want. This pertains to food/beverage only, as the decor/furnishings and ambiance are exclusive to the restaurants.

I have seen images of my own work (chocolates and bon-bons) obviously taken in my store, cropped and enhanced on other people's websites and fobbed off as their own, or in one case, my creations copied to the last detail and sold as their own creations in another continent.

My gut feeling tells me if you paid for what you get, you should be able to take as many pictures as you want provided you're not a nuisance to other diners, but decor, staff, etc are off-limits.

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I can understand a ban at Ko...in a practical sense it'd be hard to take photos there without disturbing your neighbors. Now, is that a deficiency of the restaurant (the ban and/or the seating)? Not in my opinion, but I'm sure there are people who will refuse to eat there as a result. Chang's "It's just food," rationale, is a bit too cute for my own liking, but I'm not much of a photog, so it's not going to stop me eating somewhere that prohibits photography.


True rye and true bourbon wake delight like any great wine...dignify man as possessing a palate that responds to them and ennoble his soul as shimmering with the response.

DeVoto, The Hour

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While I'll always abide by a restaurant's wishes, does a restaurant have the right to ban photography? What if the person taking pics has a blog? What if the person is a food columnist?


Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

Twitter

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Food columnists usually have excellent powers of description. That is, they can accurately describe what is on the plate, how it is presented, what flavour combinations, special features, etc.. The paper pays for a good verbal description and gets it. To date I haven't seen a newspaper columnist use pics.

Bloggers are another story. Many approach the restaurant before--usually asking for a freebie or heavily discounted. Others just whip out their cellphone camera and snap away.

It's the photographers who are so engrossed in getting the "right angle" all the while sticking their various body parts and flashes in other diner's faces that gets both service staff and patrons all riled up. IFyou could somehow hold them accountable we wouldn't have any problems..........

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Given that everybody now has a camera on their cell phones, and there are additionally pretty good cameras which are smaller than the palm of my hand, I wonder how restaurants could enforce this. When I take pictures to blog a restaurant, I specifically try to do it while nobody is looking ... and without flash of course. Just because I don't want the staff to feel awkward, or to look like I'm more concerned about taking pictures than eating. Sure, they can easily see you pointing your EOS at the plate, but a phone?

One reason I can see for chefs to object is that some food bloggers and tourists get so carried away they let the food get cold while they snap pictures. You're supposed to be there to eat after all.

If restaurants really want to keep us from taking pictures, just lower the light levels to "dim twilight". ;-)


The Fuzzy Chef

www.fuzzychef.org

Think globally, eat globally

San Francisco

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I can't recall seeing a newspaper restaurant review without photos. Generally those photos are not taken by the writer but by a separate photographer. With larger online operations like the Grub Street blog it's the same way. With single-author blogs the writer is also the photographer. I have to say I disagree with the claim that "Food columnists usually have excellent powers of description." I think that's only the case in a very narrow slice of the top of the market. When you get deeper into the market, the columnists with excellent powers of description are the exceptions.

I've been in restaurants when the New York Times was photographing in the dining room in preparation for a review. Having a photographer wandering around is a significantly more distracting and intrusive process than having a blogger taking snapshots. But no restaurant is going to say no to the New York Times.

I think there are a lot of parallels to cell-phone bans. The simplest way to react to a potentially intrusive technology is to ban it. Of course, cell phones aren't the problem. Cell phones don't talk loud; people talk loud. Those same people can be loud whether they're on the phone or shouting to their friends. Phones can be placed on vibrate. Same with cameras: it's possible to shoot with no flash and to do so in such a way that only an uncommonly nosy person would notice or care.

Meanwhile, all those photos by bloggers can be very helpful to a restaurant. It's particularly ironic that someone like David Chang, whose career got launched online, would ban cameras. Banning flash makes sense. Banning cameras altogether just comes across as Soviet and paranoid. Not that Momofuku Ko needs the business, but for most restaurants if the kitchen is confident in its food the mission should be to get as many photos of it out into the world as possible.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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What if someone wants to take a picture not of the food, but of the people s/he dines with because it's a special occasion? People do tend to take pictures of food more nowadays, but people still take pictures of people. Does it really make sense for restaurants to ban customers from taking pictures when they're celebrating something special?

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I agree with Fuzzy Chef. I think its hard to ban photography in restaurants as everyone's mobile have a camera. I think the said restaurants is unsure of their quality and presentation as if the food comes out bad and you have photos of it you can blog it and then they will get bad publicity on the world wide web.

I have a good chef and would love people taking photos of my food and blogging about it. I too love to take food shots, I've seen some places when the service staff look at you differently if you start taking out photos of their food, even the chefs comes out. Also one of the reason I have noticed on the web is that people only like to write bad things, nobody writes about a wonderful meal they had or a wonderful service they received. That's why everyone is worried nowadays cause on the web its a free for all. Anyone can blog about anything

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This is an interesting thread and you may be interested in what is happening in the UK.

There does seem to be a trend of late for restaurants to invite bloggers to review, and take photos of their food, for publication on said blogs. The meals are complimentary.Some of the reviews are not favourable, as in the case of Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester which currently holds three Michelin stars.

Most, if not all restaurants here, embrace food blogging and photography.And accept the good with the bad, safe in the knowledge that they are reaching a wider audience.

From a personal point of view, we dine out quite a lot and always take photos and never once has anyone expressed disdain or asked me to stop. I should of course stress, I never use flash, its simply too intrusive.

We dined at Helene Darroze at the Connaught,recently, and as the lighting was low I struggled to get decent photos. The maitre'd suggested that I switch to flash, which I declined.

Things seem to be a bit different over here it would seem. Long may it continue.

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I thought you were using flash these days David. Your photos have improved a lot recently.-new camera?

Let us hope this trend does not cross the pond.

I think egullet should be making a stand against restaurants banning photography. Within certain guide lines ie. not photographing other diners or the whole restaurant without permision. How about a black list of restaurants with a 'no photography' policy Fat Guy?


Pam Brunning Editor Food & Wine, the Journal of the European & African Region of the International Wine & Food Society

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Restaurants have always invited media in for free meals. That circle of media now includes bloggers (and has since before the word was in common use -- it has been about a decade now). It's not really that anything the bloggers are doing is new (blogging is very much like old media, as opposed to online communities which are a different animal), but rather that the base of people doing it has expanded so much. The old scenario where a newspaper or magazine photographer would visit the restaurant a couple of times a year is not like now, when most people with enough money to eat in nice restaurants also own digital cameras and most people even if they're homeless can afford to start blogs.

So it's like cell phones. If three people a year used a cell phone in a restaurant, nobody would care. If three people a minute do it, it becomes a much different phenomenon. That's when restaurant managers start thinking about how to balance the desires of all their guests, and the less creative, more rigid ones start talking about bans.

In terms of the banning trend, it's not that every restaurant is all of a sudden doing it. But it does happen periodically. Momofuku Ko is the most notorious example, and they absolutely do enforce it. I ate there with a person who is one of the most influential people in the world of food and when she tried to take photos they shut her down completely. And because the place is arranged like a sushi bar, they do see you even if you're trying to take photos with a cell phone. Most recently, at Lotus of Siam they asked for no photos at preview dinners, and at Lincoln they asked for no photos though I don't know if they've kept that policy in place or not. But certainly this is a policy trend affecting no more than .1% of restaurants in America, so I'm not sure it's something to wage a full-on campaign against.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Perhaps e-gullet could have a sort of "code of ethics" for restauarant photography?

On my list would be:

(1) Courtesy to other diners--no flashes or body parts in other diner's faces

(2) Only include staff in the picture if they agree to it

(3) Acknowledgement that the meal was served properly--no excuses that the food was cold, sauces congealed, salads wilted after 10 minutes of fiddling and tweaking

(4) EXPRESS consent from the owners to take pictures of architectual features or creative displays.

How and who will enforce this?

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I agree with everything Steven has mentioned. I'll add that there are really only a handful, (less than a handful actually), of oldline Food Journalists left that are under contract reporting for National publications like GQ, Esquire, Vanity Fair and the like. If one of those Journalists does a piece on a restaurant, (unannounced at the time of the visit), then it is fairly standard for the publication to contact the restaurant after the fact to send a professional photographer over to take shots of the food if the review is going to be published--done under professional lighting conditions during the day when the restaurant is most likely closed for service. That's the exception of course.

While my fine dining experiences are outside of the confines of New York City, I've never encountered a situation where I was either asked in advance or told at the table that photography was banned. However, if I am at a restaurant at the level of say L'Atelier or Guy Savoy, (any high-end room), I will always ask the waiter in advance if they mind if I take shots of the dishes. I think showing some graceful manners up front and asking goes a long way to telling them you are serious and interested in food and likewise, they are impressed and want to share their craft (as it were), with the public. It sets the bar at a higher level than someone just coming in and holding an iPhone over the pasta.

I know that some restrateurs and Chefs fear that the wicked world of Facebook and Twitter will wreak havoc upon their reputation--but, if they are putting forth quality food they should welcome the free advertising.

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Another point to consider is the quality of the photos. If you take the chef's perspective, especially those in the higher-end places, they've laboured over the dishes, the presentation is perfect and they've sent it out. They've had so much control over the visual aspect of the food only then to have a blogger take a) some blurry ill lit or (heaven forfend) b) harshly flash lit photo making the food look less than appetising being released for all to see and judge. Of course, it's not practical for the chef to ask whether every picture taken will be published even less to inspect every one so the easiest solution for them is just to ban food photography. But to ban photos altogether is a little churlish. A lot of people go to nice restaurants for special occasion, a group photo is a nice memento of a good meal.

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Difficult one, sometime I feel taking photos can result in less appreciation of a meal, however I if done subtly without impacting other diners I can't see a reason to say no. However if photos of other diners (not your party) or flash is used then that's a definite no no. In the correct circumstance for a shot of the whole table say then this would be something your server would take, if they were happy, so they could get the shot that did not intrude on other diners but also got your table in.

If there was some aspect of a meal where the photo may "give the game away" or reduce the experience of a future diner by seeing it then the restaurant may wish to refuse. Or if it was known that another diner did not wish to be photographed then excluding all photo's would be necessary to minimise any risk.

So far every restaurant I've been in has not objected provided no flash and focused just on the food.


Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana.

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In chatting with a well-known New York Restrauteur this morning, (whose family has been in the business for many years), he summed-up the issue of Chefs and front-of-the-house employees banning food photography in restaurants with one, simple, word-

"pretentious"

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Picture taking banned in restaurants? Whoopee! Great! Love it!

I've been on eGullet before to state my views and I'm glad that maybe some restaurateurs are starting to realize that the practice is extremely annoying to the majority of their customers.

Other than the occasional picture taking which accompanies celebratory meals I find the practice very annoying. Rude! Intrusive! Boorish! Pretentious!

I sincerely hope the banning practice continues and spreads.

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Other than the occasional picture taking which accompanies celebratory meals I find the practice very annoying. Rude! Intrusive! Boorish! Pretentious!

Why is it annoying to you if somebody takes a picture of his/her food at a table far away from your own (as long as they don't use flash which hardly ever happens anyway)

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I frequently write restaurant reviews - for pay - for another website. Being able to take pictures of the food I am reviewing is a nearly necessary part of that process. I am basically just a freelancer so there is no staff photographer to come out at a later date and take perfectly-staged photographs. I also want to include photographs of the food as it was actually presented to me as an "average consumer." This reflects a more honest view of what is served, I believe.

And photos are very useful for potential customers, or am I the only one who feels that way? I like having a sense, when I read a restaurant review, of what the food actually looks like, including what portion sizes are like (not to criticize if they aren't big, but to know how many course I should order as servers aren't always helpful in that regard.) With "small plates" and "tapas" being such a rage these days, I really like to know if I'm going to need to order 4-5 courses to have a satisfying meal or whether a place is just using the word "tapas" as a trendy name for full-sized "appetizers." Or if a place is truly "family style" and I could do well to just split a main with my companion and have more than enough food for two.

Also, as a restaurant review writer, having photos is an important tool after the fact for remembering the details of a meal. I try to dine at a place at least 2-3 times before reviewing it, and months may pass between those visits. Having photos even just for my own reference helps refresh my memory on the details of a meal so I can write about it later.

I never take flash photography and always try to be as discreet as possible when photographing food in restaurants. The most I do is ask my dining companions to refrain from "digging in" before letting me take a picture of their order as delivered, even just for reference if not publication. I do not try to photograph other tables' food. I honestly don't see what the issue is with someone like myself unless a restaurant has real reasons to keep people who haven't been before from seeing what their food actually looks like.


sockii

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| South Jersey Foodie |

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Today, in a busy restaurant, I used a SLR with flash and large wide angle zoom lens, interrupted diners from their food so I could get pics, and took pics of people eating. Lots of smiles. A few jokes. Nobody seemed upset. They rarely are. Not much pretension in a grease stain worthy restaurant.


Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

Twitter

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Exactly. There's a lot of variation here. In some restaurants flash photography is perfectly appropriate. In most restaurants they are absolutely thrilled to have their food photographed and shared with the world. Places like Alinea, where you have photography and video interfering with a temple-of-haute-cuisine-type experience, are the rare exceptions.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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