I read a fascinating little story in a recent edition of the New York Times. Helene Stapinksi reports in “Restaurants Turn Camera Shy” that growing numbers of restaurants are no longer allow patrons to photograph their food. That’s right, no more quick pics to post on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram. Other restaurants are requiring customers to photograph their food in the privacy of the kitchen, rather than at their tables.
Why such draconian regulations of personal freedom? You can probably guess the answer. As more and more people photograph their tacos in order instantly to share the photos with thousands of friends, this practice is creating a nuisance for others. For example,
“It’s reached epic proportions,” says Steven Hall, the spokesman for Bouley and many other restaurants, who has worked in the business for 16 years. “Everybody wants to get their shot. They don’t care how it affects people around them.”
Moe Issa, the owner of Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, said he banned photography several months after opening when it became too much of a distraction to the other diners at his 18-seat restaurant.
The “others” being inconvenienced by your food photography may very well be sitting at your own table:
It’s hard to know who is most irritated by amateur photography — the owners and chefs, the nearby diners or even the photographer’s dining companions. Emma Kate Tsai, a Houston-based editor, said her 64-year-old father drives her family crazy with the food photos he shoots with his large, cumbersome camera strapped across his chest. “It’s really irritating,” she said, “because we can’t take a bite unless he takes his photo.”
All of this makes me wonder when somebody will sue a restaurant for limiting their freedom of speech. Or, maybe someone will sue an amateur photographer for ruining the ambiance of a meal.
Seriously, though, I find this story to be a fascinating example of how technology impacts our lives in unexpected ways. It can invade the sacred space of the common table. Or, it can allow the specialness of a meal to be shared with far away friends. I love it when my son, who goes to college in New York, posts photos of his culinary creations. Yet, many of us who carry smartphones seem to assume that we have the right to photograph food (or people or whatever) without asking permission of our companions or without considering the implications of our behavior.
Perhaps the solution to the problem of the father driving his family crazy with his food pictures is not restaurant legalism, but rather a bit of conversation that lets dad know how his behavior is impacting the others at the table. When it comes to technology and its impact on our lives, maybe we don’t need more rules, but simply more conversation and consideration.