The crowd gasps an undeniable breath of anticipation the moment she appears on stage. After a brief announcement from the emcee, the crowd exchanges quips of admiration regarding the impending performance. As the moment of performance arrives, paparazzi descend upon her. But the stage is not that of Madison Square Garden, it’s a table; the emcee is a waiter; the crowd is your customers and “she” is your Quattro Formaggi pizza. The paparazzi (or in our case, pizzarazzi) are the growing legion of tech-toting shutterbugs that will risk the heat of a dish in favor of the perfect pic. A few peeved restaurateurs in New York recently put the kibosh on tableside photography and now eateries across the country are contemplating the same. Little do they realize that a camera in the hands of a customer could be the best thing to happen to a pizzeria
I take pictures of food when it looks delicious. We eat with our eyes first, so the sound of a camera shutter should really be taken as a compliment. Most food photogs I know don’t even use cameras, opting instead for their phones. Sometimes I wonder why I wasted money on a digital camera when the chip in my mobile phone usually gives me better shots. The best part about your customers taking pictures with their phones is that they’re probably going to post the images on Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Foodspotting and Instagram. These sites have incredible marketing power and all you have to do to leverage them is serve attractive food!
Rather than ban food photography, restaurants should encourage it. Dig around the social media sites and I bet you’ll find photos of your food that look better than whatever is on your marketing materials. Why not make a contest out of it and reward your customers for taking shots of your food? I’d love to see pizzerias hold food photography events to encourage customers to get snapping. Just partner with a local photographer to show your customers how to get the perfect angle and you’ll maintain control over your image.
If food photography is so great, what’s all the fuss about banning it? The one complaint I can understand is that overzealous photogs have the tendancy to disturb other guests. A couple on their first date might feel awkward when someone at the next table whips out a giant camera to photograph a soufflé. A friend of mine once drained the blood from my face when he stood up on his chair to get a better shot of a Pizza Margherita. These situations seem to require a quick lesson about manners rather than an all-out camera ban. More ridiculous is the suspicion that a competitor might alter the image of a dish to discredit its restaurant of origin, but that seems highly unlikely. The only time a camera ban makes sense for your restaurant is if you’re serving something that doesn’t look appetizing. If that’s the case, pictures of your bad food are the least of your worries.
Scott Wiener owns and operates Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City.