Restaurants Say, 'Hold the Photos'

Remember when smoking in restaurants was allowed, and a cigarette with your coffee seemed like a perfect way to end a meal?

That trend flicked its last ash into the ashtray of history, as the dangers of second-hand smoke became more apparent and places like New York City and San Francisco instituted bans on smoking in restaurants and bars.  

The smartphone-enabled trend of photographing your food and posting it to Yelp, Twitter or Facebook may be following suit. But instead of a fine, you may be in danger of being publicly humiliated by a restaurant owner or an annoyed diner.  

The New York Times reported this week that there's a growing backlash against amateur food photography. Some restaurants, including Momofuku Ko, Per Se, Le Bernardin, Fat Duck and Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare, discourage it. They think it's rude, especially when enthusiastic photographers stand on dining room chairs to get their shot.  

The article revealed that, at some level, food gawkers understand their mid-meal actions to be in bad taste. They've got personal bottom lines: only in casual joints, only without a flash, only if the dish is famous and you want to show the world you're actually about to eat something epic.  

After taking such photos myself, I’ve got a new bottom line: Don't do it. Enjoy the meal, don't document it. 

I was thinking of food spotting last week, when I came up with a 60-Second Stir Fry question for The Sporkful's Dan Pashman on the "most odious food trend."  (He thought I asked him about oats).  Pashman thinks "the war on lard" is worse.  He's enough of a food Tweeter-eater to remember his latest post: "Pulled pork on a potato latke that I called 'The Heretic.'"

That's his picture at the top of your screen.

Unlike me, he has developed no qualms about food spotting.  But, like other unrepentant practitioners, he has rules. 

"If your photo may help to transmit some information that will make the world a more delicious place, then by all means, snap away and share," he e-mailed me. But the impulse has to come from a pure and humble heart. That rules out gloating over the famous shaved foie gras by star chef David Chang, or my pizza post from the Bedford-Stuyvesant hotspot, Speedy Romeo. ("I've been there two times, and the place was packed," I wrote. Aren't I the coolest?)

"If you're taking a picture of something amazing you're eating just so you can rub it in your friends' faces, I recommend you keep it to yourself," said Pashman.  "The key is that there must be some benefit for the viewer of the photo. And jealousy is not a benefit."

This issue is shaping up to be a question for "The Ethicist."  

When is it okay to take a picture of your food?  Is it ever okay, or is it inconsiderate, like texting or talking on your cell phone while dining with friends?  Do you have rules for when you whip out the iPhone for that snapshot of a memorable meal?  Share you thoughts below.