Lights, camera, no thank you

When I was home in December, I went to my favorite restaurant to have dinner with one of my best friends. She knows I like to take photos of the food with my phone and was surprised that I was reluctant to do so. I love to document the amazing dishes I eat. Most of the photos I post on Facebook are food-related. I have been known to stop my friends from eating their food so I could get a shot of their dishes. Once I even had one of my friends use his flashlight app on his phone so I could get the right lighting for my photos. So yes, I was one of those diners.

But then I went to dinner at a restaurant in Boston where friends were taking multiple photos with flash and I noticed how it affected my enjoyment of the meal. Then I started looking around and saw the looks our table was getting from fellow diners and even the staff. I think it was at that meal when my attitudes toward amateur restaurant food photography started to change.

Don't get me wrong, I still take food photos but I'm more selective. Much of it is based on the atmosphere of the restaurant. If it's a bustling pub, I generally have no problem taking pictures. If it's quieter, more upscale, I almost never take photos. And as a rule I don't use my flash. A dish has to be really amazing for me to use my flash and I'll still evaluate the restaurant setting before I do anything.

My friend back home sent me a link to this article in the New York Times about restaurants banning food photography in their dining rooms. I think for the most part I agree with that policy. CNN reported on restaurants offering discounts if diners choose to leave their phones with the receptionist for the entirety of the meal. I'm not sure that I'd be comfortable doing that but I think it's a nice way to encourage people to focus on the food and the people they're with rather than fiddling with technology.

The same night that my friend and I had dinner, I noticed a family of four at a nearby table. No one was speaking and the parents and their two teenage boys were each on their phones. The food and eating were secondary. Conversing and connecting with each other was non-existent. It was beyond puzzling. I couldn't understand why they had chosen that particular restaurant when eating seemed far from their minds.

And that's what it's really all about isn't it? Going out for dinner is so much more than just food. It's also about the atmosphere, the service, and the people you're with. That's what makes a meal an enjoyable experience. I won't completely stop taking pictures in restaurants but I'm going to keep in mind why I'm really there.