Do foodies need an Instagram intervention?

What’s worse, diners who Instagram photos of their food in real time, or restaurants that ban them from doing so?

I’m leaning toward restaurants.

In a recent New York Times article, Helene Stapinski listed a handful of NYC eateries that now ban diners from taking photos inside. Way to bite the hand that feeds them. For restaurants, there may be no better publicity than that created by customers who post social network shots of their food. That’s gold, especially in this economy.

Not all chefs and restaurant owners agree. And if you’re David Chang of Momofuku fame, you can afford to take the risk.

Some complain that amateur photogs have taken the whole food paparazzi thing too far. And it’s true.  “There are those who use a flash and annoy everyone around them. There are those who come equipped with gorillapods -- those small, flexible tripods to use on their tables,” writes Stapinski. “There are even those who stand on their chairs to shoot their plates from above.” Can you think of anything more mortifying?

For others in the restaurant biz, banning amateur food photography is more of a cultural intervention. At L.A. restaurant Eva, for example, owner Mark Gold offers a 5% discount to diners who check their phones at the door.   

"For us, it's really not about people disrupting other guests. Eva is home, and we want to create that environment of home, and we want people to connect again," Gold told KPCC in August. "It's about two people sitting together and just connecting, without the distraction of a phone, and we're trying to create an ambience where you come in and really enjoy the experience and the food and the company."

There’s no doubt our phones have fractured our attention span, and maybe even our relationships, with constant distractions. And when we’re distracted, we’re not always polite to the people around us. Still, I’m more offended by restaurants making us feel bad about how we use our phones -- especially when we’re excited to share photos of the meal at one of their restaurants -- than I am by snap-happy foodies.

It’s no surprise that the topic of Stapinski’s article has sparked backlash. On Mashable, a website for the “connected generation,” readers weren’t just offended. Some who posted comments seemed genuinely bewildered. This is how we live now.

The article has also inspired a much-needed debate about how to adapt to an increasingly plugged-in culture. One Mashable reader suggested creating phone and non-phone sections, like the smoking and non-smoking sections of yesteryear. It’s a clever idea, but my guess is that the non-phone section would be sparsely attended.

Perhaps as diners, we should lead the charge. We could rebel against restauranteurs, or we could listen to the underlying message of this emerging photography ban. Our phones don’t give us permission to act like jerks; and even paying customers should respect the people around them.

Certainly a few quick photos won’t kill a dining experience. But as repeat offenders know, it’s not simply taking a few food photos. It’s also uploading them, coming up with captions, and checking back frequently to see who’s “liked” then. That ritual happens on repeat until the bill’s been paid. Eating, it seems, is an afterthought, and your dining companions -- well, if they’re not on your same page, they’re chopped liver.

But, still: Rather than restaurants banning photography, diners should just remember their manners. Take a few quick photos -- no flash -- and then get on with your meal. Afterward, you can #latergram it.


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