Opinionated Abut Dining Survey

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July 07, 2008


Sam Greenfield

Steve, many concert venues do not allow you to take cameras into rock concerts; those that do frequently don't allow people to take photos after the third song. Taking pictures at rock concerts generally does not bother other folks who go to the show, yet security people can be very vehement about using cameras. Do you feel there is a parallel situation?

Ultimately, restaurants have the ability to set the level of behavior they expect at their establishment. As a consumer, you have the choice to go. How is banning photography in a restaurant any different than imposing a dress code or refusing to vary ingredients to match a diner's food preferences?

Steve Plotnicki

The likeness and image of a recording artist is something that is protected by law so there isn't a parallel between concerts and restaurants. As to your point about a restaurant having the ability to set a code of conduct in the restaurant, nobody disputes that. The issue is, why do they want to ban something that promotes their business when nobody is complaining about the behavior? It doesn't make any sense.

Nina W.

I don't mind if people take photos as long as no flash is used, but the flash annoys me. I just don't say anything to you because - what's the point?


from a commercial POV, i don't understand why any chef would ban photos in this day & age. yes, some photos might look crappy, and some reviews might be bad, but photos of your food on the web will help you more often than not. Gagnaire now allows photos; Momofuku Ko doesn't need to b/c demand outstrips supply; and Masa should allow it (1/2 empty rooms @ $450/head need help.)

from a "controlling the experience" POV, i think restaurants should strive to create a standard but, ultimately, half of the experience involves the customer and their expectations. it's just like reading a book - once the author writes it, the reader is free to interpret it however they wish. same for "the restaurant experience" - you can create all of the rules you want; but i will be the one that ultimately decides how the visit went.

if i were a restaurant owner, i would actually retrofit a few tables w/ better lighting. and if you want to take pics, you get to sit there. you could even put the tables slighly away from others if you want to control the environment. you get happy customers, (arguably) happier neighbors, and better photos on the web of your food.

see a problem? fix it and make everyone much happier.



Must disagree about your comments on flash photography. I do find it invasive and very annoying. In my experience it destroys the ambiance of the restaurant and detracts from the overall experience for the majority of diners. I would like to ban all flash photography in restaurants, not just photography of the food. But banning non-flash photography is odd, I take photo's to remind myself of meals, and wished I had started doing this earlier as memory does fade with age.

Copyright/commercial interests, seem to be two arguments without merit. If I wanted to copy the presentation of a dish I could simply make notes, and I don't believe the photo is going to help me reproduce the taste or texture.

One worrying development I have observed recently is the advent of video blogs of restaurant meal. OK a quick video of a dish on a phone is unobtrusive, but the vox pops to camera, or interviews with wait staff, or scene setting pans of restaurants with high def cameras, will annoy other diners and detract from the ambiance.

Steve Plotnicki

Look I have seen people complain about smoke and noise, but never once have I ever seen anyone complain about a flash. So the inference one should take from that is it effects people to a lesser degree than other impositions. Which is what I said in my post. It bothers people more in theory (they complain about it in passive discussions,) but not enough to actually complain (they don't complain about it in active situations.) Hard to overcome those facts when trying to reach a conclusion on the right thing to do.

As for people shooting video in restaurants, I once again point out that your complaint is hypothetical. It begs the question, why does something that could be bothersome, but hasn't caused anyone to complain about it while it is going on, bother anyone? Shouldn't the standard for creating a rule be that people are actually complaining, not just complaining in theory?

craig thornton

steve, i love your stand on this subject, being a chef i really could care less about someone taking photos of their experience. the whole reason most chefs are chefs is to help make someones experience great, if that means taking pictures to remember it by or blog about then so be it. as far as copyrighting food, i just don't see that as something that can be legitimized, so i guess i am going to copyright brioche and foie torchon, then my friend can copyright roasted sweetbreads. i mean come on thats how ridiculous this picture matter is, if a chef doesn't want to get caught using an immersion circulator, then when a guest comes into the kitchen tell he/she its "your little secret" and you need to move over to another spot before taking photos. to me its just as bad as having to wear a suit and tie to dinner. get the hell over it, let people enjoy what and how they want to. they are paying for it, get over yourself (people who need to keep everything a big "secret") everyones doing the same swirls and splats and glazes or whatever all over the plates anyway. really no matter where you are in the world, i am sure steve has seen his share of the spoon through the middle of a pool of sauce drawn out to the edge of the plate and so on. blah blah blah, let peole take photos and shut the hell up and use your energy toward creativity.

Patrick Wang

I personally don't mind people taking photos in restaurants. They want to remember a great meal and the experience - I get that. What annoys me are the patrons who blast away with 40 photos of each plate at every angle as if it was a photoshoot - Click! Click! Click! Click! Click! These people should be practicing their food photography at home, not in a restaurant. Or the ones who have to get up and take multiple group photos in the middle of a restaurant during dinner rush. When they're disturbing the experience of other people who are there to eat or affecting the restaurant staff's ability to do their job, that's just inconsiderate and crossing over the line.

I'll bet that's why certain restaurants implement the no-photography policies. It's there not to stifle your own experience but to prevent rude photo enthusiasts from taking over the ambiance of a restaurant. It stinks but sometimes a business has to take a hard line to prevent a few bad apples from spoiling the barrel.



I would propose an alternative hypothesis regarding the lack of complaints. The majority of people take time to gain confidence about complaining; they start by complaining in passive discussions; gain confidence through consensus, and then gradually it becomes acceptable to complain. Or to put another way; once a consensus develops it becomes an accepted social norm to complain. So it may really irritate, but the social norm has not developed sufficiently for a complaint to be accepted as a reasonable complaint.

Cell phones are an example, when they were first introduced it was acceptable to answer them at the table and talk during a meal, no doubt this annoyed the hell out of some people but they kept quite. Phones were fashionable and you don't want to be out of step with the consensus (even though it had yet to really form). Over time the passive annoyance turned into active dislike and thus people will now complain about loud conversations in inappropriate places, and phone use is now banned/discouraged in some places.

As I said before flash photography does annoy me, but in most restaurants it isn't a persistent-ant problem (although when it is, it is bad) so you are right I am still a passive complainer. However, at some destination restaurants it obviously has become an issue i.e. The Fat Duck bans flash photography, but has no problem with non-flash.

Maybe it will never really be a mainstream issue as restaurant food photography is still rare in Europe, even in top restaurants only a small percentage of diners take photos. So it looks like it is up to me to start complaining....!


I have taken taken photographs of food in restaurants, and I only use the flash when it is so dark that I have no other choice. However, I have to admit that taking photos of food during a meal makes me uncomfortable. Why am I uncomfortable? Because, the behavior strikes me as poor table manners. The better the restaurant, the more unacceptable it seems.

I agree with the negative comments above about use of flash. If you can take a picture without the flash, most of the people in the restaurant will be blissfully ignorant of the event. That is not true if a flash is involved. Today's digital cameras have very good low-light performance. The problem is that most high end restaurants are lit like underground opium dens. Restaurants in Europe seem to be much brighter. What's the point of lighting a place so that you have to use a candle to try to make out the menu?

Perhaps the camera makers will come up with a technical solution. All that's needed is a bit of light concentrated on a small area. Today's cameras all have infrared focusing lamps, why not a close up illumination lamp instead of a flash?


Plenty of commercial spaces prevent visitors from using a DSLR as opposed to a cameraphone/P&S. I've heard the argument that a pro grade camera is not allowed. It's quite stupid really. There are already plenty of digital capture devices that are easily concealed and we're just getting started when it comes to technology. Let people take good pictures or make them take crummy ones, the picture/video is still going to happen. The idea of intellectual property protection is silly too. Eyes, taste, memory = who needs a camera. You could even smuggle out a sample to a laboratory to figure out the exact contents. I do sympathize with the notion of limiting photographers from harassing other diners by use of flash or invasion of privacy (in a private dining venue).

Steve Plotnicki

"I would propose an alternative hypothesis regarding the lack of complaints. The majority of people take time to gain confidence about complaining"

This must be a British thing as Americans are born complainers.

As to your point about cell phones, we once did an analysis of that issue as well and here is what we came up with. It didn't make sense that a table of 2-4 people could be having a spirited conversation and not be annoying anyone, yet a single person on the phone could be very annoying. So we determined that it wasn't talking on the phone per se that was a problem, it was the way we speak when we are on the phone that was jarring. Both the volume and the static way people speak when they are on the phone, as well as the issue of only being able to listen to one side of a conversation, was really what bothered people.

And what I find is sort of the opposite of your thesis on the photography subject. I find that today, more people speak on the phone in restaurants than they did five years ago. And I believe the reason for this is that the people who are on the phone slightly altered their behavior to make it a bit less intrusive, and other diners got used to the occassional phone conversation taking place providing that the caller is somewhat respectful. Hence, the social revolution you describe that results from people working up a head of steam in a group discussion and then complaining never happened. Now the occassional phone call, or flash photo, is as common an occurance in a restaurant as the sound of someone dropping a fork on the floor.


If i was a Michelin stared chef i would not want to see a load of flash bulbs going off in the dining room because it is not a bloody fashion show, also Chefs/Resturant Owners should clearly stait on there web sites whether they will allow people to take pictures of the food because if they do not and somebody brakes the rules then they will be asked to leave, and that way everybody knows were they stand before they try to book the meal IMO

Steve Plotnicki

Paul's comment is exactly what I am talking about it my post. In order to find a reason to ban photography in restaurants, he creates a hypothetical person (a Michelin chef,) and then he postulates a reason why his hypothetical person would want to ban photography (food is not fashion.) Meanwhile, that has nothing to do with a discussion of whether photography in a restaurant is actually intrusive. So I ask, Paul, why the visceral negative reaction about something that doesn't seem to bother you in any way other than you don't like it in theory?

craig thornton

michelin chef or not, it doesn't matter if your a fucking michelin star chef or a diner cook, the point is why the hell shouldn't people be able to take photos, not what kind of establishment they run and whether that should dictate the rule. the problem in my opinion is that chefs are thinking they are fucking rockstars and food is there songs that are being ripped off like steve is actually a new version of food napster by taking photos of the plates he recieves, they why i think about it, if you don't want a potential bad plate sent out and photographed then don't send it out, i think that people taking pictures at some of these establishments will force an even higher level of execution!!!! i don't understand why paul is so against taking pictures, maybe he is some chef who has likes to gripe about people "stealing" his grand ideas, which i thought the whole idea behind the way chefs think is to help each other push the limits of cuisine. like i said before , get the hell over it, find your next subject to bitch about, maybe your next subject could be complaining about people wearing grey turtlenecks on sunday nights before 8pm.


I think that the basis of objecting to people taking photos comes down to snobbery masquerading as 'table manners'. Rather like the way some people might sneer at a coach load of nylon-clad tourists giddily filming their trip around the Notre Dame, the thinking is that you shouldn't really display your excitement as it hints that you are unaccustomed to such delights. Were you to whoop with joy and photograph each new plate that was put before you at, say, Pierre Gagnaire, other diners might take this as a sign that you had never been served dishes of such high calibre, that you were used to dining out of polystyrene boxes and were therefore not 'one of them', hence did not deserve to be feasting from the same kitchen. Discreet appreciation is allowed, uncouth displays of pleasure are forbidden for being 'tacky', or so fellow diners would have you believe. In my experience, the Chef is usually tickled pink by people photographing their food as so much effort and thought goes into the plating, it is nice to see that diligence being appreciated and enjoyed rather than just demolished.

Nina W.

How does a restaurant make sure that no flashes will be used (which are annoying and distracting) short of a ban on photography? Just saying "no flash please" does not do it.

Steve Plotnicki

"How does a restaurant make sure that no flashes will be used (which are annoying and distracting) short of a ban on photography? Just saying "no flash please" does not do it."

You have skipped over a material point in the discussion which is the fact that nobody complains about a flash even if it bothers them. The inference from that would be, it doesn't bother people enough to be considered intrusive, why make a rule about behavior that isn't bothersome enough to rise to the level of an actual complaint?

Don't you think that's a reasonable standard? When public behavior is intrusive enough to generate a sufficient number of complaints, then it is reasonable to create a rule to eliminate or lessen the intrusive behavior. But if the complaints only occur in passive discussions AFTER THE FACT, and not when the event is taking place, where is the motivation to create a rule?

Jon Tseng

My argument is simply that the food is getting cold while you are taking the pics.

Less of an issue with a quick one piece snap but if you have a table of michelin *** set pieces it can take a while...

craig thornton

steve i love reading this blog, i have read it for a long time now and i like that you seem to find subjects that really fire people up.

Steve Plotnicki

Thanks Craig. Stirring the pot, especially when it is so obvious that there is evidence to rebutt what people are objecting to, is my specialty! LOL

Jon - Now why would you care if other people's food is getting cold while they are taking photos?

Douglas Blyde

Surely us "butterfly catchers" [Jay Rayner's quote] are in the minority and don't pose too much of a distraction...?


I also don't like people taking flash photos in cathedrals or other places of worship, especially during a service. I have never seen a member of the congregation remonstrate with the sinner and complain but I am not certain this makes it OK. I believe that this the congregation is simply getting on with their act of worship rather than it being a signal that this not annoying them.

Isn't it better to have social norms that engender a sense of respect another persons enjoyment of a situation rather than waiting for them to complain before setting the boundaries. If we use the "if they don't complain, it's alright" argument as a justification for actions it could have some very worrying outcomes. After all history full of examples of people not complaining and then finding themselves in an extreme situation as a result of a gradual erosion of their personal rights.

Anyway off to Paris for the weekend, camera fully charged up, so looking forward to snapping some great food.

Steve Plotnicki

But the reason people aren't complaining is that they don't notice it while it is taking place. So when you say that the practice creates an erosion of personal rights, you haven't met the your burden of showing that the behavior is intrusive. Which begs the question, why do you want to regulate behavior that doesn't have any practical effect on you? As for people taking flash photos in church, well when you are photographing something that is twenty yards away and directly in front of you, the range of the flash is wide so you would notice it, making it intrusive. But that isn't a problem when photographing food because the camera is pointed down which makes the range of the flash very narrow so it isn't noticed at other tables. In fact it can hardly be noticed by other people at the same table.

craig thornton

seriously? you are talking about church and food? do you pay to go to a church, and i bet my salary that if you told a priest you were taking photos because you wanted to remember your time there the priest wouldn't mind, i am not saying flashing cameras all over the place but steve has a great point the flash isn't spilling over to your next table or the whole restaurant. people with cameras are paying the bills for these restaurants and it gives them more reason to go out, i have followed this blog for a long time and its blogs like these that push the creative boundaries for a chef, you get to see all the places steve has personally gone to and get his feedback, i would be lying if i said there were not a couple hundred things i have picked up just by reading this blog. steve i can definitely say your reading your blog and some of your ideas have shaped some of the ways i cook, and thanks again for taking photos of places that most of us will never be able to see or eat at.

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