The Times delivers a familiar but nonetheless compelling story about restaurant customers — and food-lovers in general — who suffer from the compulsion to take photos of their food when they probably should be eating it. There are iPhone people among us, Instagram addicts, flash-bulb fiends, DSLR geeks, and sneaky rule-breakers who unpack stowed-away tripods at photography-free restaurants like Ko and the Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare. Here’s the thing: We’ve been down this road before, and it really shouldn’t be an issue still.
Here’s what to do the next time you find yourself — or one of your table mates — reaching for the camera, ready to intercept that plate of cockles and oxtail or whatever. First, as the rules go, think about what you’re doing. Don’t dwell: Eating is traditionally done without cameras for a reason — machinery interferes with digestion, after all — and if you’re waiting there with your itchy virtual f-stop finger and you detect even the slightest chance you don’t need to Instagram the bountiful miso-glazed salmon head at Chez Sardine, you’re actually working directly against the cook who made that salmon head. Chefs like to say that perfect steaks, for example, are undercooked for a long time, just right for a moment, and then overcooked forever. If you want things to be just right, put the smartphone down.
If you must, heed the remaining guidelines: Use no tripods, no flash; like Hippocrates and that split-personalities guy on that new NBC show, do no harm.
Finally, make no fuss: If you insist on taking a shot that requires anything longer than a few seconds, make arrangements to take your plate of food or spit-roasted head away from the other guests. Above all else, try not be a dick.
Like this post, it’s telling that most reactions to the Times food-photography article have been doled out in pointers: Bon Appétit posits that you’ll be infinitely less annoying if you actually know what you’re doing, Animal NY says can the flash, and Pop Photo says that discretion and common sense are your friends and will help you not get stabbed by forks.
What if some weirder Darwinian thing is at work here? This latest food-photography hoopla arrives the same week, after all, it was reported that a specious man announced he’s begun selling plastic cards that allow colonies of social-network-adept amateur restaurant “reviewers” to leverage more perks from small business owners, for fear of prompting bad reviews. And elsewhere, a savvy entrepreneur unveiled an iPhone app that lets diners pay the bill without ever having to actually talk to the waiter.
The experience of eating out is layered with the presence of social networks and mediated with glorified beepers. Sharing food photos with your friends is arguably one excellent way to share your experience, but when sharing photos increasingly takes the place of shared plates, dinner can become less social.