There are two immutable truths whenever food and technology meet:

  1. There is always someone in the dining room or at your table who chooses talking/texting/checking Facebook over engaging the actual friends right in front of them. Reactions vary greatly: “Normals” tend to shake their heads at the behavior, while the hyper-connected digerati often take it as a reminder to likewise check their own accounts. Immediately. 
  2. If the restaurant is very good and especially if the chef is famous, someone in the dining room usually stops to take photos before letting anyone dig in. Sometimes, to really make you want to grab that smartphone and slap them with it, they’ll up the irritation factor by blasting you in the face with a flash.

Sad, but true. I’m pretty good about the first one, but I’m totally guilty of the second.

Duck Four Ways, enjoyed at Miyake in Portland, ME, as part of my anniversary meal: Delicato squash roasted in duck fat, finished with tama miso and white poppy seed; duck leg and wild mushroom gyoza, with creamy hoisin sauce; lightly truffled seared duck breast; and miso-cured duck confit. (Personal note: Chef and owner Masa Miyake is a genius. Remember to book for next trip to New England.) 

I am not alone. Everyone spouts off about how crowded the technology blogging space is, but have you checked out the food blogging scene? When it comes to geeking out, foodies definitely give tech fans a run for their money. But it’s not just the bloggers who are obsessed with capturing those good eats. Everyday folks are increasingly documenting and digitally sharing their meals, offering up a collective mountain of food porn to stuff into their Facebook and Pinterest feeds, as well as other places.

Foodspotting app (AndroidiOS)

There are plenty of sites and apps dedicated to it, and there’s even a lady in Brooklyn, NY, who — sick of seeing horribly blurry or flash-blasted, off-centered pics — offers courses in iPhone food photography. Valery Rizzo covers framing, lighting and apps like Instagram, Foodie SnapPak and Camera+. Her big tip? Ditch the flash: “A lot of food photos are hideous because of the flash.”  

Washed-out images aren’t the only bad outcome from that LED. It’s one of the big reasons why restaurants are getting fed up with on-the-fly food photography.

You’d think the businesses would be grateful for the attention, but on the contrary, more executive chefs and owners are banning photography. They say it breaks the mood, interrupting the dining experience, and not just for that table. We’ve all seen the behavior — people slapping their Gorillapod tripods on the table, or even standing up on chairs to get a better shot. And when glaring camera flashes go off in a darkened environment, it’s downright impossible to ignore. It disrupts the entire place.

Some restaurateurs show more finesse than others in handling these situations. Moe Issa of Chef’s Table in Brooklyn provides diners with professional images the next day. Unfortunately, that doesn’t appease people who like immediate gratification. Famed chef David Bouley may have a better tack: He has been known to usher people into the back kitchen, where they can shoot dishes as they come out and is, more importantly, far away from other diners. He’s even setting up a system to give patrons digital pics of their meal on the spot, so they can boast about their experience.

So if you pull out a smartphone camera next time you’re eating out in a nice restaurant, don’t be surprised if a maitre’d or chef swoops down to stop the infraction. And maybe it’s not such a bad thing if we fixated less on capturing the moment and focused more on enjoying it.