Tuesday, 29 January 2013
In which it's my food and I'll Instagram if I want to
According to The New York Times this week, the trend for amateur food photography has reached unacceptable levels, leading some of the city's top restaurants to ban it altogether.
NY hotspots Momofuku Ko and Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare have been some of the first to implement a ban, arguing that over-zealous camerawork is distracting for the chefs and other diners, with happy snappers using flash, standing on chairs and even bringing tripods to dinner, all in an attempt to capture the ultimate gastro-boast.
While some might applaud a backlash against our Instagramming impulses, I've added to my ever-increasing list of Things Restaurants Need to Get the Hell Over (alongside no-bookings policies and 'foam'). In our shaky economic climate, shouldn't restaurants be glad of a little free publicity - even if it's via someone's Pinterest page rather than a critic's column?
Besides, manners work both ways. While watching the person next to your laboriously photograph every course might be irritating, I'd say shaming any customer who reaches for their camera phone is far more damaging to the ambiance. Just like those stories of the Queen drinking finger bowls to avoid embarrassing her dinner guests, I've always thought that the mark of a truly classy restaurant is staff who make you feel at ease, whatever the total bill.
Last year at both haute cuisine Roganic and the notoriously booked-up Dabbous, waiters were perfectly happy for me to snap my food and preserve the memories. Likewise at Heston Blumenthal's Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental, where staff also looked on smiling as we all rotated plates every third bite to make sure we'd tasted the whole menu.
Of course, I'm arguing for discreet iPhone snapping, not a half-hour session with a lighting director. Truly antisocial behaviour deserves a ticking off; if you're going fully Blow Up over a plate of pulled pork then it's fair for staff to have a quiet word, just as it would be for any other activity than genuinely disturbs other diners (here I'd like to nominate tableside frottage, and that drunk guy who once threw up next to me in Pizza Express).
But banning photos altogether smacks of self-importance, of a sort that usually has me running for the nearest burger van. How about just, y'know, trusting your paying customers to conduct themselves properly?
Besides, our slavish Instagram devotion won't last forever. Sooner or later amateur food photography will lose its novelty and we'll move onto something else, like virtual pottery or a microblogging site that features only facial expressions.
The self-important restaurants had just better hope we get bored of food photography before we get bored of them.