Recently, I was somewhat taken aback to read an article in The Weekend Australian that suggested it was the height of rudeness to take photographs in restaurants. The article then went on to slam people who (like me) photograph food and then later blog about it, saying that:
“… it’s the photography of dishes destined for blogs that have become a hot issue among chefs, who not only resent their food being shot without request by amateurs in often poor lighting conditions but also the too-common outcome – when those images end up accompanying ill-informed restaurant reviews. The art of food photography is a difficult enough discipline for accomplished professionals, let alone the critiquing of the cooking itself.”
Ouch! I must admit that as a food blogger this article touched a bit of a raw nerve with me. Am I breaking a rule of modern restaurant etiquette, or even worse, being amateurish and causing offense? Are my photos, many of which are unavoidably shot in the restaurants that use mood lighting, so bad that chefs would cringe at allowing bloggers to make them public?
Let me state at the outset that my purpose as a food blogger is to share special meals and preserve and treasure the memory. Some restaurants clearly have a passion for what they do, and I think that vision should be applauded and shared. I also feel that it is import to record the stories behind food, especially Taiwanese cuisine where there is a close link between food and culture. I have never posted a ‘flaming’ review on my blog, although I was very tempted after suffering abysmally poor service at a Taipei restaurant owned by a multi-Michelen starred chef. I figure it is best to respond to this by NOT writing about it rather than giving it profile. (That said, I do plan to visit again to ensure it was not just a one-off event.)
I frequently photograph food at restaurants (at times I get excited and photograph way too much) and I have never encountered any complaints from Taiwan restauranteurs. On the contrary, wait staff at most restaurants are happy to assist: at banquets, they often bring over dishes for me to photograph before dishing it out in individual portions. And my fellow diners are usually understanding, and many themselves have food blogs or post food photos on Facebook. Taiwanese are food obsessed: if they are not eating food, they are talking about it, reading about it, or photographing it — or maybe even dreaming about it.
At this point I should thank Scathing Weekly for recently writing a review in my defence. Scathing Weekly suggests that in some cultures such as Japan and Taiwan, it is considered not only normal to photograph food, but is also a compliment to the chef. She also argues that chefs need not be shared of restaurant reviews; if the food is fantastic, any informed review will reflect this. Moreover, in today’s society ‘customer reviews’ are increasingly gaining traction: people relate to them as there is generally no bias or ulterior motive behind the review.
I don’t consider it rude to photograph food in Taiwanese restaurants. But for some reason I often hesitate to take photos at formal occasions, especially if there will be other Westerners there. And I often prefer to use my HTC smartphone to take photos rather than a camera, as it feels somehow more discreet and less planned to do so. I am, however, learning to be brave about bringing the camera out. And so far, no-one has darted disapproving stares in my direction.
I occasionally ask for permission before taking photos, but no restaurant has ever refused. Often, I contact the restaurant after I have conducted my review. They generally appreciate the feedback, and sometimes put a link on their websites (or Facebook) back to my blog. Who doesn’t like free advertising? And while my reviews are usually flattering, I do try to be honest as well. Nothing (or no-one) is perfect, and I reflect this in my reviews. Recently, I contacted Taipei French-influenced restaurant L’Idiot to advise them I had reviewed my restaurant. My colleague had not enjoyed one aspect of his meal, and I had mentioned this is my review. This was their response:
“Thank you very much for being our guests and writing us a wonderful article. It is very encouraging for L’IDIOT team to receive guest comments like yours, as we are trying our best to provide a different western cuisine dining experience to local customers. The menus are changed from time to time, just to make sure all the ingredients are fresh and in season.
Your detailed and honest comments are inspiring, and we will take them seriously to improve ourselves. Thank you again, and we look forward to seeing you at L’IDIOT soon!”
This is definitely a restaurant that I will go back to. And I hope other people will, too.
So what do you think? Am I being rude, or am I on safe ground to take photographs? Are you a budding photographer who likes to take pics in restaurants? Or does it really annoy you when people whip out their camera and pretend they are paparazzi? Please vote to let everyone know what you think: