February 6, 2013

Soup to Nuts: Serving up a photo op

From clam shacks to five-star destinations, smartphone-toting diners increasingly are shooting what's on their plates, a trend that the restaurateurs we spoke with are, for the most part, OK with.

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

If you're out to dinner on Valentine's Day and fall in love with the pine nut-crusted rack of lamb or blood orange mousse that your server sets before you, go ahead -- take a picture.

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A diner uses her iPhone to photograph a serving of butter-poached lobster risotto at David’s Opus Ten in Portland’s Monument Square.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Blogger Meredith Perdue shared a photo that she took of oysters at Eventide in Portland. Perdue never uses a flash and always asks the wait staff for permission before using her camera. Other photos taken by Perdue can be seen below.

Photo by Meredith Perdue

Additional Photos Below

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Chances are, if you're dining in southern Maine, the chef won't mind.

Just don't use a flash.

Despite the possibility that your photo may look a little, um, unappetizing, or might be posted with a so-so review, southern Maine restaurants tend to look the other way when snap-happy foodies drop by their dining rooms.

"We get a lot of people who photograph the food," says Krista Desjarlais, the chef-owner of Bresca in Portland. "I guess I have mixed emotions about it sometimes, but ultimately I'm glad that they're happy and want to do it. At night it gets trickier, and we grimace if someone uses a flash, being such a small room. I think people are understanding how intrusive it is, especially at night, to use a flash."

A recent story in The New York Times noted that New York restaurants, especially the high-end ones, are becoming a little camera-shy as more and more diners with iPhones in their pockets insist on documenting every bite they take. Some places have instituted "no flash" policies, while others have banned photos altogether.

Some of the backlash may have to do with concern about where the photos will end up -- no one wants a bad review on Yelp or Facebook or Trip Advisor -- but a lot of it reflects concern for other customers who may have spent a good deal of money on their meals and just want to enjoy them in peace.

"I know there are some chefs -- there's quite a few more at Michelin star level -- who are not allowing (photos)," Desjarlais said. "I have worked at that level, so I can understand because it does disrupt. Especially at that price point, it probably does get some people extremely annoyed sitting next to a couple who might be cataloguing an entire dinner."

Steve Corry, chef/owner of Five Fifty-Five in Portland, said photography in Portland restaurants was more of an issue about three years ago, when "everybody had a food blog." Although the picture-taking has tapered off, customers still like snapping photos of their food, and of each other (a lot of people get engaged at Corry's restaurant), and no one seems to mind.

"We don't have a hard-and-fast policy per se," Corry said. "We certainly take great pride in the preparation and presentation of our dishes, so I don't mind if people are taking photographs for that reason. When it becomes an issue is when another table has an issue with it."

That happened on one memorable occasion a couple of years ago, when a young couple seated next to an older couple on the balcony of the restaurant began taking pictures of everything. When the 30-something man excused himself to go to the restroom, the older couple got up to leave and complained to the man's wife.

When the young man returned to his table, his wife told him what happened.

"He chased them all the way down to the lounge," Corry recalled, "and if someone didn't step in from our staff, they were going to get in a fistfight over this. It was a big scene, all over taking pictures in the restaurant."

At the Portland restaurant Grace, located in a stunning 19th-century church, diners want to take photos of the venue as well as the food. Proprietor Anne Verrill says that "unless you're doing something horribly awful," they tend to look the other way.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Blogger Meredith Perdue shared a photo that she took of a breakfast scramble at Local 188 in Portland

Photo by Meredith Perdue

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Blogger Meredith Perdue shared a photo that she took of Brussels sprouts at Boda in Portland.

Photo by Meredith Perdue

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“You eat it, it’s gone. So how do you remember it? Well, take a picture,” said local restaurateur David Turin. This dish is red wine-poached pear, sweet ricotta, with a sweet balsamic redux at his David’s Opus Ten.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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