“Food Photography Etiquette” aka “How Not to Be THAT GUY in a Restaurant.”

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The other day, I got into a discussion with a food blogger on Instagram regarding taking pictures of food in a public setting. That short back and forth got me thinking about my own hobby of taking food pics and posting them on Instagram, Facebook, and (sometimes) this almost-defunct blog.

I take pictures of food so often that when I decide to not whip out my iPhone or camera, my 5 year old finds it odd and feels the need to call my attention.

Rocio: “DADA! You’re not taking a picture of my carbonara?!?”

Me: “No Ro, you can eat na.”

Rocio: “Why? It looks yummy naman a!”

Me: “I know! Wala lang, just eat na.”

Rocio: “Ok. Weird…” *omnomnomnom*

While my daughter already thinks it’s common practice for people to document their meals, I know that there are still some who find it a hassle to dine with camera-toting, Snapseed-adjusting, watermark-adding, Instagram-posting “foodies.” Honestly, as hypocritical as it may sound, I am one of those people sometimes. No, I don’t think that this is the new normal. Despite the fact that my Instagram feed looks like a buffet spread, I still believe that people who enjoy taking and posting pictures of their food, including myself, are a minority and we have to be extremely mindful of the rest of the dining public.

That said, I think that it’s pretty easy not to be THAT GUY when dining out with family or a group of friends. It all boils down to RESPECT.

Respect the establishment. Respect others. Respect the food.

RESPECT THE ESTABLISHMENT

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I haven’t heard of an instance where a restaurant in Manila had asked a customer to put away their camera. On the contrary, I think that most establishments here appreciate a nice pic along with a mention or tag on social media.

I once heard a story a while back about a relatively-known food blogger (who will be referred to as The Douche henceforth) who ate in a restaurant and sent back some of the dishes because The Douche wanted them “plated better” since The Douche was posting the pics up on his (or her) blog, The Douche felt that the plating was not up to The Douche’s standards.

I heard the chef told The Douche to go fuck off…at least not in those words.

Always keep in mind that no matter how appreciative the establishment is for the shout out, at the end of the day they are still running a business, you are a guest in “their house,” and they are LETTING YOU do it.

So do it nicely.

RESPECT OTHERS

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A restaurant is a public place and public places are governed by good manners and proper etiquette. Like I said earlier, we are a minority. The rest probably couldn’t care less about our blogs and/or IG accounts. So NO, “I’m serious about my craft” is not an excuse for acting like a fool in a restaurant.

Unless you’ve been invited by the establishment to feature their dishes and they’ve given you your own private area to go about your business, you are a regular diner, just like everyone else. You are bound by the same etiquette guidelines, just like everyone else.

A friend of mine said that his golden rule when taking pictures in a restaurant is to “Never bother other diners.” I think that’s an excellent, succinct way of putting it. “Other diners” don’t only include the party you’re with but also the other tables around you. Keep in mind that your readers and followers are no more important than your fellow diners.

Here are a few rules that I try to live by so that I “never bother other diners”:

  1. Ask permission — Don’t assume that you can just take pictures of your seat mate’s order. Although they rarely say “No,” it’s always nice to ask first. A quick “May I?” never hurt anyone. Same rule applies for family-style dining.
  2. Use the 15-second rule — When dining out, especially with my family, I’ve had my fair share of “Bilisan mo naman o!” or “Hoy! May ibang kakain!!!” So recently, I’ve been trying to practice the 15-second rule. As in, you have 15 seconds to take a decent picture of the dish once it’s been laid down or forever hold your piece. I understand that 15 seconds still might be too long for hungry diners but it sounds like a good compromise, doesn’t it?
  3. No flash photography — This rule does not only apply to museums and theaters but to restaurants as well. Imagine having your meal with strobes firing around you. Ano ‘to, disco?!? Annoying at the very least. Epilepsy-inducing at worst. If the restaurant is dimly-lit and you need to take a picture of your dish that badly, then learn how to use a camera and crank up your ISO. Still too dark? Buy a better camera or at least a better lens. Still too dark? Tough. Oh, and no tripods too.
  4. No standing on chairs — This seems pretty basic doesn’t it? In no other circumstance in a restaurant is it acceptable to stand on a chair (Well, maybe if you see a mouse. That’s it.), so why do some people assume that it’s OK when taking a picture of their food? Want to achieve that perfect flat lay? Stand all you want, just not on furniture, for chrissake!

Needless to say, rules 1 and 2 don’t apply if you’ve ordered your own dish. Although 3 and 4 always do.

To minimize disturbing fellow diners, at least the ones in your party, try to be click-ish. Pun intended. Eat out with fellow bloggers/Instagrammers who don’t mind passing around dishes and waiting for their turn before digging into the food. But then again, we don’t always get to dine with like-minded individuals so it’s also good to learn to read a room, or at least the table. Sometimes, it’s best to know when to put your phone or camera away.

Remember: Proper etiquette always trumps the “perfect shot.” Always.

RESPECT THE FOOD

I remember that when my cousin Miko and I were running Underground Supper Club, most of our guests took pictures of the dishes that we put out. We actually appreciated the fact that they were helping us promote our dinners via social media. What we didn’t appreciate, however, were some of the instances when guests would complain that their food was cold. Since I was the one serving front-of-house, I had full view of the dining area and, more often than not, these were the same guests that took forever taking pictures and even passed around the most beautifully-plated dish so that everyone could get a pic or two. And they wondered why their dishes weren’t at the ideal temperature.

Remember that restaurants, at least the fancier ones, strive to serve a dish at the temperature the chef wants you to experience it. Thirty seconds longer on the pass could mean life or death for the dish. What more 5 minutes in an air-conditioned dining area? As mentioned earlier, I give myself about 15 seconds to get a shot in before I say “Ahhh, eff it!” I don’t know about you but taking a picture of my food and uploading it on Instagram is a far second from me enjoying my meal.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand other people have different priorities, especially food bloggers and Instagrammers who make a living out of their “craft.” Really, I do. “I am eating in this restaurant so that I can post about it,” right? By all means, click away. But also think about this: How can you write a proper assessment of a dish when you’ve eaten it NOT in the way it was envisioned by the kitchen?

TL;DR: Manners maketh man.

So, what do you think? Is there anything I missed? How do YOU keep your restaurant food photography on the D-Lo? Let me know in the comments section.

P.S. Before you say anything, let me answer the question that you’ve been itching to ask: Yes…the view is amazing from my high horse. 😉

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5 thoughts on ““Food Photography Etiquette” aka “How Not to Be THAT GUY in a Restaurant.””

  1. These are some really good tips! I (try to) only post things I make on Instagram and when I take photos of food in public I secretly hate myself a little bit for doing it!

  2. A+ maneatmanila. You got it down pat. Being in the resto biz myself, I definitely appreciate people shooting and sharing the food that we put out. But I also agree with all the “etiquette points” you’ve laid out. Well done!

    Please, write more! I enjoy reading your blog!

  3. Agree!! In a public place everyone needs to show respect and good manners…and that’s part of what enjoying a meal is all about. If you are crazy enough about food to want to photograph it all the time, then you must also want to enjoy it and have others do the same right?

    If I’m at a private function with other bloggers though then all bets are off, haha…whoever gets into the most death-defying position to snag the shot is the winner, lol!!

    Also, when friends or family are getting antsy while you’re taking photos of the food, I usually snap a quick shot of them. People cannot help but smile when their photo is being taken. That’ll buy you are couple more seconds 😉

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