Snap-happy foodies taking pictures of their meals with smartphones has become a common sight for restaurants worldwide, but for some chefs the practice has become a nuisance; disrupting the ambiance and often doing the presentation of the food an injustice.
So should restaurateurs be allowed to ban this ‘food porn’ culture from their establishments? The debate took another turn earlier this week as a group of leading French chefs launched a campaign to ban smartphone photography from their restaurants.
Michelin-starred chef Alexandre Gauthier, from the Grenouillere restaurant near Calais, told local newspaper La Voix du Nord he wants diners to ‘disconnect and live for now’.
"I would like people to be living in the present - tweet about the meal beforehand, tweet about it afterwards, but in between stop and eat,” said Gauthier. “Sitting down for a meal should be an enjoyable moment shared with us, not with the social network. Instead of enjoying the moment they are elsewhere. But it is a minority of diners.
"They used to come and take pictures of themselves and their family, their grandmother, whoever, as a souvenir. Now they take pictures of the food, they put it on Facebook or Twitter, they comment. And then food is cold."
La Grenouillere - Bonus course! Probably ate the legs of 12 frogs myself. pic.twitter.com/pu8hxAb65W— Will Preisch (@wpreisch) May 5, 2013
Gauthier’s frustrations are echoed internationally. In New York, several top restaurants have banned food photos altogether, with one establishment – Bouley – instead only allowing photos from the kitchen and providing a professional food shot to customers with the cheque.
Here in the UK, opinion about restaurant food photography seems mixed. Tom Aikens, who runs Tom's Kitchen has been quoted as saying that if his premises were smaller and more intimate, he would be tempted to impose a ban because it can ‘disturb the dining experience’. Meanwhile, Michel Roux Jr, head chef of the two Michelin-starred Le Gavroche in Mayfair, recently told The Telegraph it was ‘the height of bad manners’.
But for others, customer photos of well-presented plates is a great way of showing appreciation, and their inclusion on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and blogs is a form of free advertising.
Tweet what you eat
Edinburgh-based chef Mark Greenaway, who runs his eponymous restaurant in the city centre and recently opened Bistro Moderne in the Stockbridge area, says ‘it’s something that's here to stay, so let’s embrace it’.
“I spend a lot of time developing dishes so they look appealing on the plate, so it's understandable that some people will want to take pictures,” said Greenaway. “So many of us are doing it now that I think, rather than banning it, we should be embracing it as a part of 21st-century restaurant culture.
Greenaway is actually planning to use the phenomenon to his advantage. On a yet-to-be-confirmed date, the chef will run a ‘tweet what you eat’ workshop at Restaurant Mark Greenaway, where he and a professional photographer will help foodies to get the best from their smartphone camera and apps.
"I recognise that a candle-lit dining room plus a smartphone equals a tricky situation,” he added. “Use your flash and the food loses all its character, and without it the food turns into a dark mush, distorting the hard work that’s been done in the kitchen. So I want to help”.
Readers' Poll: Should food photos be banned from UK restaurants?
So… What do you think - should restaurateurs be allowed to ban food photos from their venues with no-camera policies? Or should a customer, delighted with their meal, be allowed to photograph their plate and post it on Twitter at their pleasure?
Perhaps the ‘food porn’ culture has impacted your restaurant, or led to extra customers. Cast your vote in our Readers' Poll and leave a comment below to let us know your thoughts.