I have a theory that when chefs object to guests photographing their food, it has nothing to do with any concern about how it changes the atmosphere in the dining room or disturbs other diners. It is all about the chef’s ego.
Firstly, they want diners focused reverently focused on their creations. Secondly it kills them to see blurry shots of their dishes on Instagram or (god forbid!) TripAdvisor, that look like half-chewed dog food.
To treat this as a question of etiquette – as recent media reports about Michel Roux attempting to ban photography at The Waterside Inn did – misses the point. It bothers chefs. Not diners.
Indeed, rather than this sideshow about snapshots, restaurants could be tackling numerous things diners do which genuinely irritate other customers. Things that, in order to maximise their guests’ comfort, operators should train FOH to address or ban outright. Here are my 10 pet hates:
1. Laughter: Banning laughter? It sounds ridiculous. But we all know there is natural laughter (gay and infectious) and there is weaponised laughter: drunken, continual, deafening and at its worst (think: braying, swearing blokes in full-on bantz-mode) outright aggressive.
2. Singing: From random outbreaks to Happy Birthday, ban it. This is not a private function. No table’s ‘fun’ should impinge on anyone else’s (quiet, romantic) night out.
3. Socialising: Space? Economy? Ballsed-up furniture order? I’ve no idea why you installed communal tables, but if you have, please post this notice: ‘Hi guys! Although you are sat together, do not feel obliged to chat. Please respect socially awkward diners who loathe small-talk. Thank you.’
4. Arguments: Not a stand-up row necessarily (and if it gets to tears and accusations, guests must be told to take their issues outside). In small restaurants, however, bickering, frosty resentment simmering between married couples can easily poison the atmosphere. Great managers will use every trick to make them smile and defuse that tension.
5. Interrogations: Little sets my teeth on edge more than hearing non-UK staff being asked: “Where are you from… exactly?” The question is pushy, nosy and, at worst, carries a distinct whiff of xenophobia. It could be genuine curiosity. Often it sounds like an accusation. Fundamentally, why does it matter? Staff should be allowed to shut it down.
6. Clicking: Forget taking photos of food or even a phone call (so long as you do not give it the full Dom Joly). Far, far worse are those people who text without putting their phone on silent so that every keyboard click (and woosh/ping in reply), is audible at nearby tables. It is sonic water torture.
7. Children: I am trying to carry three pints from the bar. There are little kids darting around my feet. It is dangerous. Someone needs to be the adult in the room and get gormless parents to control their brats.
8. Sprawling: Manspreading males lolling around with trip-hazard legs; shoppers with bags everywhere; kids colouring on the floor between tables; people who do not know how to pull their chairs in. The FOH team must bring order to this chaos.
9. Chefs: Table 7 loved chef on Great British Menu? Tough. No, he cannot come out to say hello. If he does, he will feel obliged to tour the other tables, too. And we’re all drunk and happy and do not want interrupting. Keep that kitchen door sealed.
10. Lingering: There is no greater frustration than queuing for a table, while people who have already paid take an eternity to drain their drinks, visit the loo and get their coats. You need to turn that table. We want to strangle the ditherers. Get them shifted.
This is a web version of an article that first appeared in the December issue of Restaurant magazine, the leading title for the UK's restaurant industry. For more features, comment, interviews and in-depth analysis of the restaurant sector subscribe to Restaurant magazine here.