I didn’t realise cameras in restaurants were still such taboo. This week I had two journalists ask me what I thought about the act of pulling out a camera in a restaurant, which some say is equal in every sense to dropping your trousers in the middle of the dining room and shouting:
“Look at me! Look at me!”
Halfway through answering a Q&A via email, I realised that it could make for light reading, and perhaps debate… so…
How often do you photograph your food when eating out?
Every meal, which I am allowed to photograph. If I return to restaurants, I rarely bring my camera on the return leg, but sometimes I do, especially if it is a restaurant I enjoy.
Have you ever received any negative reactions – from chef, waiting staff, other diners? Any examples?
Some restaurants have strict no photography policies. The Wolseley comes to mind, Helene Darroze, and I believe Murano has a no-photography policy as well. Usually, it is clearly stated on their website, or that they will highlight it to you, when they confirm your table over the phone. At which point, I simply obey the etiquette. I’ve never taken my camera into Nobu, Hakkassan or Yauatcha, and these are restaurants which I have visited multiple times over the years. I’d like to think I know how to behave myself in a restaurant and know what basic table manners are, but perhaps I don’t.
If there isn’t a policy, then out of courtesy, I usually ask my waiter for permission to take pictures of the food. Sometimes, they’ll check with their manager, most of the time, restaurants happily oblige (sometimes almost flattered) when their diners find the food so enthralling that it need be visually recorded. Sometimes the staff will even help you take pictures of you, with the food, if one so wishes.
Most of the time, when restaurants ask me why I’m taking pictures, they usually ask if I work at a competing restaurant. To which I say “Yes…. I work for Gordon Ramsay.”. Cue belly thumping laughter.
Once, I was mistaken (or not?) to be a spy for Pizza Hut, at an independent pizzeria.
Sometimes, people think I am a photography student pursuing a quirky art project, by testing the waiters’ patience with the impromptu photo-op.
Only once, was I ever approached by a Maître d, asking me – what seems like – the most obvious of questions “Are you, possibly, a foodblogger?”
“No.” I gasp.
I have only been turned down a handful of times. Both times – believe it or not – were at more laid back eateries; one exclusively sold burgers, the other was a bistro, both times, I was tucking away burgers.
You’d be surprised how many diners like to photograph their meals at higher end restaurants, who are not bloggers. And you would be surprised at how normal it is to see the average punter photographing a meal at a starred restaurant. There are only 4 three-star restaurants in the UK, securing a reservation takes weeks if not months, and it costs upwards of £100 per head. It is logical if some people will want to remember the special occasion, it would defy logic, if otherwise.
Speaking of which, I remember vividly of when I visited The Wolseley, I was nervous because I was mindful of their no-photography rules, but yet I still wanted to try my luck anyway. I was shaking like a headless chicken throughout the meal, and then a nice lady tapped me on the shoulder, she sat on the neighbouring table, and asked if I would help her take a picture of her and her mum. They were celebrating her birthday, and they came over from Chester. When the waiter came around, and we held our breathe, he nodded and said it was fine as long as he didn’t have to hold the camera.
Someone told me a joke about cameras in restaurants once and this was based on his visit to The Fat Duck and how every table was laden with cameras, everybody was there to record their special visit.
Negative reaction ? I think this topic is more about misconception, more than anything.
What has the reaction (if any) been from chefs about your photographs of their food? Any examples? Are you ever contacted by restaurants looking to buy your shots?
Honestly, I’ve not received negative feedback about my pictures, either from chefs or readers, and I think it is rare for chefs to even comment about ‘bad photos’ of his food on the internet, or to even comment on photographs generally.
At least in my time, I’ve not heard of a London chef who has complained about bad photos publicly. Besides, I would have thought that chefs have bigger fish to fry.
I think, if anyone were to complain, it would emerge from the PR team who handle the restaurant’s image and I think more to the point, that photographs are the least of their concerns. Probably what worries the establishment more, might be the overall image as perceived in public. At least, that’s what I would worry about, if I were the chef, a reputation is difficult enough to build and then to maintain. But then again, I’m no chef, just a lowly food blogger.
Sure I have. Restaurants and magazines. And I’ve been fortunate enough to have some of my pictures appear in the National papers as well, which is nice.
Does amateur food photography/writing make it easier for diners to get a good idea of restaurants’ menus before their visit?
I think all opinion is valuable. I think that having an abundance of critic pieces and blog posts gives the reader – the prospective diner – a number of considered viewpoints in which the writer/blogger has spent a good amount of time crafting a well-prepared, targeted piece of writing to help the reader better understand what they’d be paying for.
To answer your question, I think so, but I think it isn’t just blog posts which help, I think that general rise in density of reviews helps.
Does developing technology – no flash needed, powerful but unobtrusive cameras – make it easier for the food blogger community?
Maybe… maybe not, but what does it matter? Unobstrusive cameras have existed since the 40s, albeit with film as the ‘sensor’, and people have been using them (Flash-free) to photograph (politely) stealthily when in public. The question is rhetorical, when some well-read, well-respected food blogs do not feature pictures, at all.
I think it is more about the advancement of the self-publishing tools available for amateurs, be it the speed of connecting to the web, as well as the software required to post things online, in a presentable manner. All help ‘make it easy’ for the amateur to air their uncensored thoughts. But I think, this phenomenon (if we can call it that), is part of way we have embraced Social Media, and people are just fuelling their desires to share the experiences they had with the wider world. And since food is something we need to face on such a frequent basis, it is probably also, the easiest and most logical one to talk about.
All text and photography on this blogpost is copyright and belongs to Kang Leong, LondonEater.com. If you repost this without my permission, bad things will happen. So please don’t do it.