Taking Pictures in a 3-Michelin-Starred Restaurant

Cutting Bread

UPDATE on April 5th, 2007: Thanks to everyone who has commented here or written me emails. It has been very interesting to see how other foodies (blogger or non-blogger) handle this and we even had a chef in the discussion (thanks Sebastian!) who tried to show us the other side about swapping plates. Thanks to a non-blogging but well travelled foodie who wrote me about his concrete experience in the restaurant in question, I was very relaxed and took pictures without any problems. You can read about our heavenly experience in the next post, coming up in a couple of hours already here!

Meanwhile, here are the guidelines I have now firmly developed and will follow from now on:

  • I don’t think the chefs have a copyright on the presentation of the food, so I may take pictures.
  • However, taking pictures in a very exposed way (big camera, flash, setting food up, etc.) can deter the experience of other diners, which has to be avoided, out of respect.
  • Only in very upscale locations and only after I arrive on the premises (to see the situation) I might ask for permission beforehand. Most of the time I will just take pictures (abiding by the above code of conduct) unless explicitly asked otherwise.
  • If the food in question is not just one bite (an amouse or something “molecular” like a sphere etc.) I will swap plates with my husband if we are having different things. Lamb on vegetables and jus is just that, and although the proportions of the different elements on the plate do have a meaning, it does not mean I can’t divide it in two.

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I need your help!

In around a week, we will be having dinner in a 3-starred restaurant. It is even sometimes called the best restaurant in Germany and the chef the best in his guild. Of course I would like to take pictures of the food, even when I didn’t have this blog; I await the meal to be a memorable experience. There has been a lot of discussion about taking pictures in restaurants and this last one (in German) made me really insecure.

I almost always take pictures of my food in a restaurant (including a 3-star establishment in France) unless I am explicitly asked not to do so. I use a very unintrusive little digital camera, of course no flash, and take it out from under my napkin very shortly and only to take a picture of the plate in front of me. Not because I want to do it secretly but I don’t want to disturb any other diners.

So what do you think I should do? Start taking pictures until I am maybe “caught” and even thrown out, as stated in the last article? Ask beforehand? Not even bother? Please tell me your thoughts about this.

On a similar theme: What do you think of tasting your dining companion’s food, or even swapping plates? I have always done this unless I am having the same as the others, but I hear it is not that welcome in some establishments…

8 Responses

  1. I think you could take pictures the way you describe it. I couldn’t read the article in German, did a restaurant really throw someone out because he took pictures? I believe the worst they could do is tell you to stop.
    I always try the dishes of my boyfriend, as well. Can’t see what should be wrong with that!

  2. If you don’t use a flash and your camera doesn’t make obnoxious noises, everything should be okay. If you are really unsure (in my opinion you needn’t be) phone them in advance, so you can be sure there won’t be any discussion about you taking a few pictures. Tasting the food of your companion is also absolutely okay. When Wolfram Siebeck writes about a restaurant, he comes with up to 4 friends and he tastes from every plate.:)

  3. i am notorious for always taking pictures, no matter whether it’s joel robuchon or the fat duck or the bistro round the corner. i DO make a point of asking beforehand, though, and i have to say that in europe, i have not had anyone object to it. with regards to the other diners, as well as the staff, it has sometimes led to interesting conversations and yes, people have wondered and probably thought i’m a bit mad – but there you go… i can take that! (i have to say that on my recent visit to the manoir au quatr saisons, i even took pics with flash (and i have a big eos 20d, not a small number either) – i didn’t think anyone was bothered (it was lunchtime, though), all i got was a few giggles.
    i notice from posts on other blogs that US restaurants tend to have a different approach, but as i said, i’ve never had problems in europe.
    so: as long as my companions at the table don’t mind and the restaurant is ok with it, i will continue taking pictures.

  4. Thanks to everyone who commented and wrote emails:
    I have decided to ask beforehand, but not on the phone, only when we arrive at the restaurant. I do have a strong feeling that the answer will be no, but I will have to wait and see. The article in the F.A.S. made me very uneasy, but I will continue to taste from other plates, as well. I really don’t see how they can have legitimate reasons to prevent that!

  5. well, i tend to snap away but as johanna pointed out, usually not a problem in europe… i use a teeny discreet camera, no sound, no flash… and i don’t fuss over lighting – at worst i’ll adjust them when i get home with photo editing software…

    as for eating from other’s plate, i do that all the time too… i go out with people who knows me well and they also share a love for food, so often, we swap plates and munch away happily… that’s what we call living ;)

    bon apetite!

  6. I agree, I take photos and have never had a problem. The chefs I have met have even encouraged it, as they are usually very proud of their creations! The same goes for trying other diner’s dishes. Things are alot less formal now than they used to be – they have to be! Remember after all – WE ARE THE CUSTOMER!!!and, contrary to what some might think – we are always right (especially when we’re paying Michelin-star prices)!!

  7. I photograph pretty much everything I eat when I’m eating out – whether it’s a quick panini at a new cafe or lunch at the Fat Duck. I have also photographed at a couple of Michelin-starred places in Europe (in France and Germany) and have never encountered problems. I know there is an argument that chefs have copyright over their creations, but frankly this does not hold water. As I understand it, the only reason why they can stop you is that all restaurants have a “right of admission reserved” policy. If you therefore do something that contravenes their rules, you can be asked to leave. If you ask whether you may and they say no (or if there are notices prohibiting photography), then expect to be chucked out under their “admission reserved” policy if you haul out a camera. If you have not asked, start taking photos and are then asked to stop, there should also not be a problem if you apologise and co-operate immediately. I always use my little Canon compact with no flash and keep it in my lap, so it is really unobtrusive and does not cause offence to other diners. I think using flash is a bit much – it does interfere with the other diners’ enjoyment of their meals and can lead to problems.

    As for sharing food, Johanna and I often dine out together and we have swapped both forkfuls and plates – most notably at The Fat Duck where nobody batted an eyelid. Once you start eating it, it is YOUR food and I cannot see how any restaurant can have any valid objection to your sharing it. OK, they may have a policy against sharing i.e. you can’t order one portion of foie gras and two plates (which is also petty but slightly more understandable). But if you each have a different dish and you choose to swap plates halfway through, that’s none of the restaurant’s business unless you are somehow disturbing the diners around you!! I would never return to a restaurant that had such absurd rules and I would take every opportunity to spread the word about their silliness and lack of respect for customers. Sometimes, restaurants need to get over themselves!! ;-)

  8. Hande, I have photographed my whole food for a year from breakfast to Betthupferl and from fast food to Michelin. If I had problems, it was only in chain restaurants or food stores, where the staff is very much on c.i. and marketing and spying and that stuff. But when I had my best meal I stopped the camera after the second course because I just wanted to enjoy and concentrate and forget.

    According to all your doubts I would recommend to ask. If they say yes, everything is fine. If they say no, accept, enjoy and tell us in your words, how your dish was (I like that very much). What’s bad: going to the restaurant with a bad feeling, taking pictures with a bad feeling (because you don’t really know, what this looks of the waiters mean) and having a real bad feeling, when you are told after a while that they don’t want photos. This can spoil the whole experience and after all: We are going to restaurants, especially to high class restaurants to eat and enjoy at first, aren’t we?

    Swapping plates? I don’t like it, especially in a top restaurant, where the chefs do a lot of thinking about every bite and where I want to concentrate on their composition on my dish and in my menu, where I want to find out, if they can hold the line until the last bite. That’s why I am even not interested to get a bite from my companions (yes, I am bad in multitasking). Sometimes a dish makes me full of joy, and I want to share the joy with my companions (but the plate has to stay where it is). So as a former chef I can understand the opinion of some high end colleagues that they don’t want people swapping their creations.

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