When the New York Times reported that New York City restaurants are banning customers from taking photos of their food, a debate erupted about proper social etiquette and consumers' use of social media.
Consumers have embraced the experiential restaurant concept with open arms, and they now approach trendy dining experiences as culinary events. In growing numbers, diners are Instagramming and snapping TwitPics of their meals, leading some restaurant owners to crack down on a practice they see as invasive and a breach of common courtesy.
On the surface, the debate over customer-driven "food porn" focuses on restaurant policies and diner behaviors. But on a deeper level, "foodstagramming" raises serious questions about how businesses can harness consumer-generated social media as a catalyst for positive mentions and increased brand advocacy.
The Foodstagramming Debate
In general, restaurant owners who object to "foodstagramming" claim that it violates the dining experiences of other patrons. It's a valid point—after all, who wants their meal to be interrupted by the glare of a neighbor's flash? In extreme cases, diners have even gone so far as to stand on tables or set up tripods to capture the perfect shot of a savory dish.
To combat foodstagramming, many restaurateurs are prohibiting diners from taking photos of food. Instead of snapping pics of the dishes they've anticipated eating, customers are now being approached by restaurant staff and told that photography is simply not allowed.
The ban on foodstagramming may also provide a convenient cover story for other concerns. The advanced camera features of today's mobile devices combined with instant access to vast social networks can be intimidating to food service providers and other businesses. If a single dish or product is deemed inferior, customers can distribute negative messages to hundreds or even thousands of followers.
But in an attempt to maintain a tighter grip on brand messaging, restaurants are missing out on a powerful promotional resource. Rather than banning foodstagramming, restaurants---and other businesses---should learn how to use social media to their advantage and work with (not against) social technology trends.