Ask The Experts
Welcome to Just Opened London’s restaurant problem page, where we ask industry experts to answer the questions that are on everyone’s lips. This time, it’s all about Instagram. Just how far is it ok to go in order to get that shot?
We asked a restaurateur, a food writer, a PR and an online influencer for their views on this burning issue…
Diners are becoming more demanding when it comes to gathering content for their Instagram and other online ‘sharing’ accounts. Do you think it is ever acceptable behaviour for someone to stand on a chair to take a photo, for example, or ask front of house staff to turn the lights up so they can get a better pic?
The Restaurateur: Jackson Boxer, Brunswick House & Chess Club
‘This is a fraught question, and shouldn’t be. Is your behaviour detrimental to another guest’s pleasure? Ultimately this is the only criterion I expect my front of house to consider while bending to any of the more unusual requests they’re confronted with on a daily basis. Adjusting the lighting is therefore definitely out. Hopping up on the furniture, as long as it’s shoeless, not such a problem – indeed, nothing is more delightful than those rare occasions when dinner service has been so exuberantly successful that you leave the kitchen to find guests dancing on the tables.
The reason we complicate the question is that online life, and the compulsive sharing of information, is in some ways a threat to the specificity of the restaurant experience. We used to talk about restaurants making memories, now we just hear about places selling an experience, which is a pretty thin and cynical substitute. Resisting the readymade Instagram friendly tableau seems an act of radical defiance against the ceaselessly creeping commodification of everyday life, so I understand why people feel so disproportionately agitated about it.’
The PR: Hannah Norris founder, Nourish PR
‘Before I launch into an ‘eating out isn’t what it used to be’ rant, when it comes to documenting everything I eat I need to admit that I am possibly the guiltiest of them all.
As a restaurant PR, my natural habitat is in restaurants, and along with my peers I enjoy the excitement and wonder of capturing brilliant plates and uploading those killer pics onto Instagram and watching the ‘likes’ flood in (sometimes, it’s borderline braggadocian.)
At home, I’m often found putting a pretty plate or napkin just within the frame of a freshly-cooked meal, often faffing around so much that the food goes cold and I lose the will to live.
I’ve recently started working with the very brilliant, magical The Laughing Heart. Here, owner Charlie Mellor prides himself on the dimmed, atmospheric lighting. We’re not talking ‘Dans Le Noir’ here – you can see what you’re eating – but I defy you to demonstrate the incredible food through a photo here. It will never, ever do it justice. But he likes it that way. The mystery and intrigue keep it exciting. Has it harmed his success? Not at all.
But when you take away my PR hat, what I’m in a restaurant for is the love of the food. The amount of space a chef must have in her or his heart to make a plate of blow-your-mind food and serve it to a hungry, excited diner can often make me cry if I think about it hard enough. The sheer graft that goes into running a kitchen and doing it day in day out will never stop fascinating me. So yes, I’ll take a pic, but that’s not my treasured memory. I can taste the Roasted Cauliflower at Tredwells, or the cacio e pepe at Pastaio, long after I’ve left. The picture? I forget about it, knowing it’s somewhere on my phone to look at another time.
The idea of moving a mountain in a restaurant, therefore, in order to take that perfect picture, defies me. I don’t understand it on any level. None of my clients has said they’ve been asked to turn the lights up so they can take a pic, but I know what Charlie Mellor would say. In his lovely, husky Aussie accent, he’d tell you to sod off.’
The Food Writer: Fiona Beckett, food and wine writer and author
‘How would you feel if a stranger climbed onto the chairs at your dinner table and took pictures of your food. At one point no-one would have dreamt of doing that but it goes on every day in restaurants all over London and other cities. Just because you’re the customer doesn’t give you the right to take over the place and disturb your fellow diners. A hastily snatched shot on your iPhone is one thing. Clambering on a chair with an SLR [camera] quite another. Part of the problem is that we’ve become so obsessed by social media and our impact on it that we cease to be sensitive to how the people around us might feel. At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old fart it’s the ‘me generation’ run riot. Nothing matters except showing off to your followers. Never mind if the food gets cold or your fellow diners have to patiently wait at the table while you perform your antics so long as you can show people how cool you are snapping the must-eat dish at the latest cool opening.
If you really want to get some shots of a restaurant ask permission to come early or late and set up a table in the corner on your own. Just don’t be a pain in the arse during service…’
The Influencer: Leyla Kazim, Instagrammer and photographer
‘It really depends on the situation. If a restaurant has asked me to come in, specifically for me to take some images of their food, then I think it’s perfectly acceptable for them to assist me with getting the shot. Whether that be to turn away a spotlight, or letting them know I might have to stand on a chair. It is a photo shoot, and so I treat it like one. And to other customers it looks like one. I will have a conversation with the restaurant ahead of time to understand how much natural lighting they have and other requirements, and I will schedule the visit at a quiet time of day, so there are as few other people around as possible. In these situations, I will do what I need to do to get the shot, as I would for any shoot. The staff are always very accommodating and understand my requirements because I’m there for a reason.
If however, I’m visiting a restaurant as a regular punter and it’s not work related, that’s a totally different story. I try not to take any pictures at all. Unless they’re quick and dirty on my phone for an Instagram story or two. In that situation, I definitely think it would be inappropriate to start asking the staff to accommodate your photography whims.’
Got a burning question you want answering by industry experts? Send it to [email protected]