Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Should you tweet before you eat?

Restaurant dining in 2013 is no longer just about the food. For thousands of cyber-savvy picture snappers, eating out is also about the photos. Step into a good eatery on any given day, and you’re almost guaranteed to see an iPhone being raised above that ­perfectly plated platter. After all, what good was that plate of life-changing foie gras if none of your friends saw the pictures? If no one can see your tian of Cromer crab, then how can they care that you ate it? Even celebrities are in on the food-tweeting phenomenon, no matter how bad or banal.

In October, pop singer and actress Hilary Duff instagrammed a picture of her fried egg and greens. In December, socialite Kourtney Kardashian instagrammed a picture of her gingerbread house. Around the same time, popular South African columnist Khaya Dlanga tweeted a shot of his umphokoqo, or African salad. (Full disclosure: the Mail & Guardian’s online editor Chris Roper uploaded badly lit food photos to accompany restaurant reviews on his own website not so long ago.)

According to a January article in the New York Times, some chefs in that city are reacting to the paparazzi fever that has seized the restaurant-going masses. Some restaurants ban photos with a flash. Others are banning them altogether. Chef David Chang at Michelin-starred Momofuku Ko in New York, for example, has vetoed all pics. So has Moe Issa, the owner of Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare. Issa told the newspaper  he made the decision after realising that ­photography was “too much of a ­distraction” to other diners.

“It’s reached epic proportions,” Steven Hall, the restaurant’s public relations manager told the Times. “Everybody wants to get their shot. They don’t care how it affects people around them.”

Although South African celebrity chef Reuben Riffel has not banned photography in any of the three restaurants he owns, he says he “has a problem with people not enjoying the evening or lunch by not interacting with their guest or partner, but rather trying to share every second with their ‘friends’”.

Many of his guests ask to come into the kitchen to take pictures with the chefs. “That is fine with us,” says Riffel. But the irritation levels start to rise when guests take several minutes trying to get the perfect shot, while their food gets cold. “Chefs don’t like that at all. I think it’s tacky when no discretion is used.”

Free publicity
Rosanne Buchanan, the editor of Food & Home magazine, thinks most South African chefs see the photographs as a good thing.

“I can understand how it could all become too much, or too disruptive, especially for smaller restaurants, but I don’t think we’ve reached that point yet,” Buchanan says. “From what I’ve seen, local chefs are flattered by the attention their food is getting, and lapping up the resulting publicity on social media.”

Professional food photographer Vanessa Lewis loves snapping pics of breakfast or lunch with her iPhone to share on social media with her foodie friends. “It’s commentary and serves as a memory,” she says. She thinks chefs should lighten up. “I think it’s a really sad restaurant that bans the photographing of food. Why are they nervous?” says Lewis. “Paul Bocuse was not telling customers not to take pics when I shot [at his restaurant in France]. Why? Because you can’t copy a recipe by taking a pic.”

Andrea Burgener, owner of the trendy boutique restaurant The Leopard in Parkhurst, doesn’t have a problem with patrons photographing their food. “Once the food leaves the kitchen, we have no control over it,” she says. Burgener only hopes that the diners are taking flattering photos and posting them responsibly. Kind of like the racist tweet that ended Jessica dos Santos’s modelling career — once it’s been posted, there’s no ­controlling the backlash.

That’s why cookery writer Jane-Anne Hobbs discourages impromptu online photo-food reviews.

“I am not a fan of the ‘tweet what you eat’ style of restaurant reviewing,” says Hobbs, the author of popular food blog Scrumptious. In her mind, the photos don’t do justice to the food. Poor quality cellphone pics, especially those taken with a flash, “make the food look abysmal”, she says. “In my opinion, this is grossly unfair to both chef and restaurant.”

And sometimes the photos can be damaging. Riffel points out a “crazy vindictive Cape blogger” who publishes “the worst images” on her blog. Because of this and other “bad behaviour”, he says, the blogger has been banned from most restaurants in Cape Town.

Hobbs has a three-step guideline for making sure you never become eatery-infamous. First, ask the chef or manager whether it’s okay to take a picture of your food. Then, ask your fellow diners whether they object. Third, take the plate to a window, if possible, and photograph it in natural light. And if you are dining at night, replace step three by turning up the IS0 setting on your camera. The ground rule here is not to use a flash.

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Thalia Holmes
Thalia Holmes

Thalia is a freelance business reporter for the Mail & Guardian. She grew up in Swaziland and lived in the US before returning to South Africa.

She got a cum laude degree in marketing and followed it with another in English literature and psychology before further confusing things by becoming a black economic empowerment (B-BBEE) consultant.

After spending five years hearing the surprised exclamation, "But you're white!", she decided to pursue her latent passion for journalism, and joined the M&G in 2012. 

The next year, she won the Brandhouse Journalist of the Year Award, the Brandhouse Best Online Award and was chosen as one of five finalists from Africa for the German Media Development Award. In 2014, she and a colleague won the Standard Bank Sivukile Multimedia Award. 

She now writes and edits for various publications, but her heart still belongs to the M&G.     

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

Fears of violence persist a year after the murder of...

The court battle to stop coal mining in rural KwaZulu-Natal has heightened the sense of danger among environmental activists

Data shows EFF has lower negative sentiment online among voters...

The EFF has a stronger online presence than the ANC and Democratic Alliance

More top stories

Phoenix activist takes on Durban’s politically connected in November polls

Independent candidates look set to play a greater role in the metro municipality after 1 November

Libyan town clings to memory of Gaddafi, 10 years on

Rebels killed Muammar Gaddafi in his hometown of Sirte on 20 October 2011, months into the Nato-backed rebellion that ended his four-decade rule

Fishing subsidies in the W. Cape: ‘Illegal fishing is our...

Fishers claim they are forced into illegal trawling because subsidies only benefit big vessels
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×