On Banning Photography from Restaurants

"It's just food. Eat it." —David Chang, Momofuku Ko


It shouldn't surprise anyone who follows Serious Eats New York that we're big fans of the food porn. So you can imagine our shock and disappointment to read on Eater that Momofuku Ko is now prohibiting photography inside the restaurant [via eGullet].

We asked Ko's chef-owner, David Chang, for comment.

His response: "It's just food. Eat it."

(Chang did say that photography is not banned at his larger sister restaurants Momofuku Noodle Bar and Momofuku Ssäm Bar.)

It's not hard to relate to Chang's position on Ko; from the minute the place opened, it was overrun by camera-toting food-porn obsessives wanting to capture the joy of a meal at the best new restaurant in the city. But if you ask me, an outright ban is entirely unfair. No photos of the chefs? Sure. No photos of other people in the restaurant? Well, of course. Don't use a flash? Naturally, that's rude.

But flashless close-up photos of dishes that we're paying a lot of money for? Well it's my belief that it's our God-given right to capture our meal for posterity. On second thought, I guess it would only be God-given for those of us who consider Chang a god.

But that's just my opinion. To get a spectrum of views on the subject, we contacted other heavyweights in the restaurant industry. After the jump, their responses.

Mario Batali

Celebrity chef Mario Batali runs a thriving restaurant empire with his business partner, Joe Bastianich, that encompasses seven restaurants in New York City, one in L.A., and one in Las Vegas.

"Do you mean folks like bloggers? Our photo policy is that we do not allow lights or taking photos of other customers but do not stop joyous foodies clicking an occasional photo of the food on the table with a small camera. If it starts to feel like a photo shoot or they flash more than twice, we ask them to stop for the comfort of other guests. I pose with guests for hundreds of photos a year in the resto."

Daniel Boulud

We called up Daniel Boulud and ended up chatting with Georgette Farkas, director of public relations for the chef's empire, which streches from New York to Miami to Las Vegas.

"We don't have a policy," Farkas said. "We discourage it, but we're not going to ban it. It's good, when and if people have a reservation and they know they want to take pictures, that they tell us. We can seat them in a place that will be better for their purposes. We'll also send people photos of the dishes if they ask us as well. The problem comes in when the flash is going off and it affects other customers' experiences."

Drew Nieporent

Drew Nieporent is the founder of the Myriad Restaurant Group, which owns the various Nobu restaurants in New York and around the world, among other venues.

"No, we're not going to stop people from taking photos," Nieporent said. "We'd just like people to be considerate of the other people in the restaurant."

A House Divided

In the process of reporting this story, it became clear there were differing opinions within the Serious Eats office. Here's what everyone had to say.

Ed Levine: "In Chang's case, I can understand the policy at Momofuku Ko because the place is so small that it's virtually impossible for people to take photos of their food without intruding on their neighbors' experience."

Raphael Brion: "I feel like it's to the point that it should be like smoking and non-smoking—photos and non-photos. When you go to a restaurant to have a meal and four people bust out the SLRs, it takes away from the dining experience, especially in a fine-dining environment."

Alaina Browne: "As a food blogger, I used to feel the urge to compulsively document my meals, but—especially if you're dining with a group of people—it takes away from the overall dining experience. ... It's kind of antisocial."

Hannah Howard: "I work at a place where our food is beautiful and photogenic. We're always wanting to show it off for the camera. We ourselves snap photos of particularly pretty plates of cheese and other things with abandon. It's wonderful to have a visual chronicle of what we are producing, and I think it's cool when diners take it upon themselves to record our food on their cameras."

Adam Kuban: "I have mixed feelings on the subject. When I'm not the one taking the photos, I hate restaurant shutterbugs. But when I need a photo for a dispatch I'm doing, I totally want unencumbered photo access. It's tricky. I carry a very small camera, always suppress the flash, and try to make my 'photo shoot' as quick as possible. I always look for a spot with good lighting that's still far enough away from owners, servers, or other patrons that I can go about my business relatively unnoticed. When I first started food-blogging years ago, it was less a problem. People just assumed I was a weird tourist. Now, with so many other food bloggers out there, restaurateurs know the score, so I'm always afraid I'll be made as a 'reviewer' and kicked out."

Robyn Lee: "I'm kind of embarrassed when I do it, but I won't stop. I can totally understand why people wouldn't want food bloggers whipping out their huge-ass cameras during a meal, but in my selfish view, I just really want to take photos in case I want to write about something on my site. The obsessive food blogger part of me (internally) screams, 'DON'T EAT UNTIL YOU'VE TAKEN A GOOD PHOTO OF IT!' during most meals. Which is not normal. Thankfully, all my friends know not to eat something until I've taken a photo of it. Sweet Jesus, what's wrong with me?"

My Own Plea

On behalf of camera-wielding, food-porn obsessives all over the city , I humbly plead that the folks at Ko change their mind and revert to a more lenient policy like those of the restaurateurs above.

What do you think of people taking flashless photography of the food they've paid for, inside restaurants?