You’re on vacation, and you’ve just made it to that restaurant that you’ve heard so much about. You’ve anxiously awaited the well-known dish. It arrives, and all of your senses are enticed. The aroma is intoxicating, and it looks too good to eat. But before you dig in, do you pull out your phone and snap a quick picture of it? Do you change your status on Facebook or Twitter to something like, “Can’t wait to dig in to this! #delicious”?
It’s not a surprise if you answered “yes” to the above questions since, according to a Mobile Etiquette Survey for Intel Corp., one in five U.S. adults say they share something online while eating a meal. Ironically enough, that same survey also revealed that 81% of U.S. adults believe mobile manners are getting worse. And some chefs could not agree more.
Renowned Chef Grant Achatz, known for his molecular gastronomy at Chicago’s Alinea, says he cringes a bit when he sees diners that “snap the meal away,” and he understands why celebrities “punch the paparazzi out when they get the chance.”
Michael Roux Jr., chef at Le Gavroche in Mayfair, London is on the same page as Achatz and says while it’s flattering, he finds it annoying.
“It’s disruptive for the people around them, and it spoils that person’s enjoyment of the meal,” Roux said.
Daniel Galmiche, of Vineyard restaurant in Berkshire, agrees. “Dining in a restaurant used to be a special, intimate experience, but that’s been lost somewhere along the way,” he said.
No cell phones, please
Many chefs have expressed that they are sick of the constant phone use during a dining experience. Chefs work hard to create a certain atmosphere and meal for their guests, and tweeting photos takes away from it.
This is exactly why RJ Cooper, owner of Rogue 24 in Washington D.C. has decided to ban cell phones and cameras from his restaurant.
“If everyone brings out their phones, it distracts from the experience,” Cooper said.
Chef Martin Burge from the two Michelin-starred Dining Room at Whatley Manor has also banned cameras after his patience with them finally broke when other customers started complaining.
“I couldn’t believe it when one diner got out an SLR camera, put the flash on and started taking pictures of the dishes from every angle. It was astonishingly brash,” Burge said.
And it isn’t just the picture taking that infuriates chefs and aggravates other diners, it’s the tweeting, the checking in at Four Square, the status updates on Facebook and so on. So much so that Graham Elliot, Master Chef Judge and owner at many popular Chicago dining establishments, kicked out food journalist Steve Dolinsky during a meal at his restaurant, G.E.B. last April. Despite Dolinsky being a James Beard award-winning food writer and ABC 7 Chicago’s Hungry Hound, Elliot would not allow him tweeting during his meal.
“When he ate at Charlie Trotter’s and live tweeted through the whole meal how shitty it was, to me that’s so egregiously over the line that I absolutely will not have someone like that at my establishment,” Elliot told Eater when the news broke.
Between the tweets, the photos and even the phone conversations, it finally prompted Julie Liberty of Miami to create the Facebook page, “Ban Cell Phones From Restaurants” in February 2012.
“I myself would be embarrassed to take pictures of my food, but then, I’m also too embarrassed to have personal conversations in a public place on my cell,” Liberty said. “It seems like good manners got left behind with the old fashioned land line.”
A picture’s worth a thousand words
While a cell phone might ruffle some chef’s feathers, they can’t deny its link to business. More than 90 percent of smart phone users search for restaurants with their phones, and 70 percent say it’s important for restaurant menus to be mobile friendly.
Food blogger and photographer Bonjwing Lee’s professional life revolves around taking photos in restaurants. Lee was inspired to start taking photos of his food because of its beauty, creativity and artistic flare.
“I just wanted to remember what I ate,” Lee said.
And 30,000 photos later, Lee has documented what he’s eaten for years, some of which at the most renowned, sought-after restaurants in the world. Not only for himself, but he says these photos on his blog, the ulterior epicure, are a resource and an inspiration for chefs around the world that can’t get to these restaurant themselves.
Lee believes a lot of the reasoning is foolish as to why chefs won’t allow photos since it only takes a few seconds.
“I want to take a memory with me. If you won’t let me, I won’t go,” Lee said.
Lee, like many other diners, would simply not go to a restaurant that didn’t allow it. Photojournalist Karen Kring feels it’s not generous or hospitable to ban cell phones.
“Only a rare restaurant could pull off a cell cam ban without alienating patrons,” Kring said.
Besides feeling that it takes away from the meal and is distracting to other diners, chefs feel that these photos could be a misrepresentation of their food and even using their image without their consent. They want their food to be captured in the best way possible. But Kring says that is just the way it is.
“When creatives – chefs, artists – release our work to our patrons, into the world, it is out of our hands. It’s the nature of the beast,” Kring said.
Chef Sarabeth Levine of Sarabeth’s in New York City is part of the group of chefs that welcome pictures and feels the tweets and photos being posted is essentially free advertising. Tom Kitchin, of The Kitchin in Leith, appreciates the feedback.
“People are engaging more with food and that can never be a bad thing,” Kitchin said.
Taking photos and blogging about restaurants is how Eric Isaac helps small businesses that may have not otherwise been recognized and shares his experiences with others. The professional photography posts beautiful photos of his meals on his award-winning food blog, Snapfood.
“I’m not so great with words so most of my blog posts are succinct but filled with photographs,” Isaac said.
These photos are the way he tells the story and are essential to his blog.
“One can only describe a dish so much”, he said.
The consensus among food photographers and blogger is if you’re going to take a photo of your food, tweet, check-in, change your status, or one of the other plethora of reasons why people use it, be respectful. Bonjwing Lee says he is careful to make sure no other patrons or wait staff is in the photo, and he does it quickly. People standing on chairs to get the best shot, setting up tripods and constant shuttering are just a few of the things he’s witnessed while taking his own photos. Not using a flash, asking those you are dining with for permission and using discretion are a few things to keep in mind.
Eric Isaac’s advice is to remember why you’re there in the first place.
“At some point you just have to put down the phone and just enjoy the experience of being out to dinner, with real people, who are there with you at this moment.”
Kristen Kuchar is author of Mac n’ Cheese to the Rescue and writes about food, beer and culinary travel for a variety of publications.