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Chefs have always known that “you eat with your eyes first”– that visual presentations of food can affect our perceptions of taste. But in the era of Instagram, some restaurants are adjusting their plates and lighting schemes to cater to the lens of an iPhone. Others have adopted strict no-photography policies – with varying degrees of enforcement – because they worry such practices are disrupting the dining experience. Kojo examines how smartphones are affecting menus and dining etiquette.
- Jessica Sidman Food Editor, Young & Hungry columnist, Washington City Paper
- Spike Mendelsohn Chef and Owner, The Sheppard, Good Stuff Eatery, Béarnaise, and We The Pizza
- Tim Ma Chef & Owner, Maple Ave Restaurant and Water & Wall
- Anna Post Co- author, Emily Post's Etiquette, 18th edition
Watch Live Video
Watch our discussion with Jessica Sidman, Spike Mendelsohn, Tim Ma and Anna Post starting at 1 p.m. Aug. 6.
Poll: How Does Technology Impact Your Table?
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world, it's Food Wednesday. The iPhone and the dinner table, some rules of dining etiquette are timeless, chew with your mouth closed, elbows off the table. But technology, especially the ubiquitous Smartphone, has left some of our dining rules in flux.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIConsider the challenges facing restaurants and chefs. Man diners just cannot resist the impulse to snap photos of their intricately composed appetizers and entrees, posting pictures to Instagram and Facebook, to humble brag to their social network. The practice has become so widespread that some chefs say, it's creating real distractions, disrupting other diners, delaying service.
MR. KOJO NNAMDISo some restaurants are banning Smartphone photography, all together. We're exploring what's rude and what's acceptable at the modern dinner table. And we'll find out what chefs really think about our inability to disconnect from our devices. This is a conversation you can watch because we're live video streaming it at our website, kojoshow.org, so that you can see, that joining us in studio, is Jessica Sidman, food editor and Young and Hungry columnist with the Washington City Paper.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJessica recently wrote about restaurants love/hate relationship with Smartphones which means the love/hate relationship with her, Jessica Sidman, thank you for joining us in studio.
MS. JESSICA SIDMANThanks for having me.
NNAMDIGood to see you again. Also with us is Spike Mendelsohn. He is chef and owner of four D.C. restaurants including Good Stuff Eatery, Béarnaise and We The Pizza. His most recent establishment, a speakeasy style bar, called The Sheppard, has a no-calls, no-photos policy. Spike Mendelsohn, good to see you again.
MR. SPIKE MENDELSOHNGood to see you too, thank you for having me.
NNAMDIAlso, in studio with us, is Tim Ma. He is chef and owner of Maple Ave Restaurant in Vienna and Water and Wall in Arlington. Tim Ma, thank you for joining us.
MR. TIM MAThanks for having me.
NNAMDIYou too can join the conversation, 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org, you can ask your questions or make your comments at our website kojoshow.org where you can also follow the live video stream. Jessica, I'll start with you. It seems like a relatively iniquitous thing. I order some of Tim Ma's signature Cream of Fresh Wings at Maple Avenue in Vienna or I stop by Spike's new speakeasy, The Sheppard, for a cocktail. The server brings out some mouth watering concoction. And I grab my phone, my iPhone, maybe I...
NNAMDI...want to make my social network jealous or maybe I just want to remember what I ordered. Why, therefore, has food photography become so divisive?
SIDMANWell, I think, there are a number of different reasons why some chefs don't like it. And, I think, you know, it can be very disruptive if you have the flash going off and you've got a big, bulky Canon that you brought with you and you're getting up on your chair or arranging your plates or who knows what. And then, also, there's an issue of how the restaurants are represented. A lot of places feel like, if the photos are blurry and dark, that it's not representing their work, at its very best. But, on the other hand, people also see it as a great promotional thing and everyone does it.
NNAMDISpike, you have multiple restaurants, as I mentioned, and I've seen, on your own social media accounts, that you allow and even encourage diners to shoot photos of their food, at places like Good Stuff Eatery. But you've adopted, no-phone, no-phone call policy at your newest place, The Sheppard, why is that?
MENDELSOHNI think it's all circumstantial. You know, there's -- you know, we're talking about etiquette and what's manners at the table. And I always think it's kind of what situation you're in. If you're at my burger joint or my pizza joint, even at Béarnaise, it's a laid back bistro, we don't really enforce any no-photos or no-cell phones, you can do whatever you want. You can update, you can be on Instagram, it's your dining experience.
MENDELSOHNFor me, I was brought up in a household when you're sitting at dinner and -- with the family or what-have-you, it's a moment to kind of regress and hang out and socialize. The speakeasy's just a little different because it's, you know -- the bar that we open is a very small bar. It's 35 seats. It's very dim. And it's sexy and, you know, we only really have, you know, two rules and it's not to be on your cell phone, take a call or take a, like, a photo of the place.
MENDELSOHNIf you want to text, you want to Google, you can do whatever you want but we felt like, we don't want flashes going on, we don't want people, kind of, putting -- taking selfies or looking around, you know, that kind of stuff, at the speakeasy. So I think it's just circumstantial.
NNAMDIWould you rather go to a restaurant that tolerated or even encouraged technology or one that forbids it? Give us a call, 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com or send us a tweet @kojoshow. Tim Ma, you have not issued any Smartphone edicts yet, but...
NNAMDI...you have voiced concerns about this practice of snapping photos of dishes because it can be so disruptive, especially, I guess, in terms of time. All of a sudden, we're spending half an hour on our appetizer 'cause we're so busy taking pictures of it. But, why have you not yet done anything, but at the same time, what are your concerns?
MAYou can't deny that it stretches out a meal, even for 10 minutes. And, at Maple Ave, we are actually even smaller then The Sheppard. We're only 28 seats and it's 300 square foot dining room, like, even smaller then this studio. And if somebody's sitting there and, you know, we have this dim lighting and all that, when somebody's sitting there and a flash goes off, you get the attention of the entire dining room.
MAAnd that can be distracting. For some people who want to treat it as a date night, they don't want a big flash going off in their face while they're eating. At the same time, and I was telling Jessica this, when we initially did the interview, was that, these people are also paying, they're renting a small bit of your space. That's what they're doing for their meal. And if they want to remember it, like, if they want to remember, you know, their birthday or their anniversary or this period of their life and the picture helps them do that, who am I to really say, no don't do that because you've paid for -- you're renting my space. You can do with what you want to do with it.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, that's the voice of Tim Ma. He is chef and owner of Maple Ave restaurant in Vienna and Water and Wall in Arlington. He is joined, in studio, by Spike Mendelsohn, chef and owner of four D.C. restaurants, including Good Stuff Eatery, Béarnaise and We The Pizza. His most recent establishment, The Sheppard, has a no-calls, no-photos policy.
NNAMDIAnd Jessica Sidman is also with us, food editor and Young and Hungry columnist with Washington City Paper, who recently wrote about restaurants love/hate relationship with Smartphones. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. You can see our live video stream at kojoshow.org. Jessica, as you mentioned, it seemed like this is a two-sided sword for restaurateurs. Instagram can be a powerful source of free publicity and it can help you build a reputation in other parts of the country or even other parts of the world.
NNAMDIBut a blurry picture shot in awful lighting or a half-eaten entrée could also make you look really bad. It's like six of one and half a dozen of the others, isn't it?
SIDMANWell -- and there are places like Cork Wine Bar. They request no photos and that's the reason, because they don't want their food looking bad. But, my personal view on it is, if you take a terrible photo that's fuzzy and dark and you post it for your friends to see, they're probably just gonna think you're a terrible photographer and not necessarily that the food is bad. And I think it's also really important to have those real photos out there.
SIDMANI mean, I can't tell you how many times, you know, some restaurant has sent me a PR photo with a gorgeous dish and it's garnished all nicely and then you go to the restaurant and it looks totally different or worst of all it's half the portion size or something like that. And so, you know, people want to see what real food looks like, even if it's ugly.
NNAMDIWell, I don't know, Tim Ma, if, in fact, the photo is taken by someone who is blurry-eyed themselves and the photo looks a bit blurry or it's a half-eaten meal and it doesn't look good. I don't know if you would have the same appreciation for it then Jessica's friends who happen to see it on her Facebook post.
MAI do see it as, like, photographic word-of-mouth. So that's their photographic opinion of your food. And, you know, it is a great source of advertisement for your restaurant because it's a conversation starter. Somebody will see it on Instagram or on Twitter and then will ask you about it. You know, oh, you've been there, how is it? I saw your picture, be-it, you know, butt-ugly or, you know, just like a professional took the picture, it's still a way that you can ask that person, oh, how was the meal and they can actually tell you how it tastes which is probably the most important part, on top of how it looks.
MASo I do see a lot of value in that and getting the word out there, be-it just a single picture rather then, like, you know, 140 characters or something like that.
NNAMDIBut, Spike, if you see what Tim describes as butt-ugly pictures of your food, how does that affect you? How does that make you feel about the people who are looking at that photo and the image they're getting of your establishment?
MENDELSOHNWell, first off, I feel -- I have to say that I feel like social media is just a very, very minute part of, you know, the marketing and the publicity that, you know, and the people that actually drive, you know, drive people to your restaurant. I think word-of-mouth is still, you know, the first and outmost, best way to, kind of, get the message across. You know, I'm not really worried as, you know, on a butt-ugly picture of my food at Béarnaise or Good Stuff Eatery. I mean, does it disturb me a little bit? I'll be like, yo, this guy needs a photography course, you know.
MENDELSOHNYeah, I might say that but at the end of the day, I think, we're a generation that kind of -- are -- we're used to being on our phones were -- you know, we're doing selfies or sending a emojis or taking pictures and we understand that it's not the true representation of that restaurant, the way the chef plated it up or what-have-you. I think, it's, like, you know, we're all smart enough to understand that.
MENDELSOHNYou know, I just think overall, you know, I just read another article the other day in the paper and how it's just getting a little bit out of control. And it's just -- I think, it's just sad for our generation, that, you know -- whether you're walking through the airport or you're on a train or if you're in a restaurant, everybody is on the cell phone. Do you know what I mean? Everybody. And you miss, like, genuine moments where you can have, you know, a real connection with somebody and a conversation, you know, at a restaurant.
MENDELSOHNSo I, personally, choose, when I go to dine, I try to put my phone away, as much as possible, all right. I don't want to take pictures, I don't want to -- you know, I really want to indulge with the people that I'm having dinner with. And I, you know, I want to enjoy the bottle of wine, I want to savor the food, I want to see facial expressions. And I really, really want to have, like, a nice evening.
MENDELSOHNAnd I feel like, you checkout, you literally checkout when the phone is in front of you. So, personally, I say, hey, like, try to take it a little easier, like, you know, enjoy your experience a little bit more, don't be so frantic over the phone. You have the rest of a life to do selfies on a beach or what-have-you. I also think there's an etiquette part of it that needs to be respect...
NNAMDIAnd we're gonna make this a broader etiquette conversation in a little while.
NNAMDIBut go ahead.
MENDELSOHNYeah. Like, you know, I wouldn't dare take my photo -- my picture at La Bernardin, at Eric Ripert's restaurant, right. There is no rules there. But I would not dare take a picture while the course is brought there because there's a style of a service and you're in the atmosphere, you're well dressed, you know. It's kind of like, that experience is completely different.
MENDELSOHNSo I think, you know, people should learn how to call each moment differently. I also believe that there's rules at an establishment, it could be respected, if there is a no-photo policy, don't take any photos. It's like being in a museum and it says, please don't take pictures of these paintings.
MADon't touch the big elephant.
NNAMDIWell, let me tell you about the expression on Jessica Sidman's face. Just because a restaurateur says, you're not allowed to take pictures, doesn't mean that some diners, Jessica Sidman, are going to follow the rules.
MAOf course not.
MAOf course not.
SIDMANI wrote the rules.
NNAMDIIs there a discrete way to break the rule?
SIDMANYeah, absolutely. And when I went to The Sheppard, I did take photos, no flash though. And I don't even think anyone noticed. I was very discreet. But -- and...
MENDELSOHNYou wrote about it. How's that being discrete?
SIDMANAt the moment it disrupted no one.
MENDELSOHNEvery single person that reads your article, which you're a great writer and a lot of people tune in to read, knows that you took pictures at a place that has a strict one-rule, no-photo policy.
SIDMANRight. And I did it to provoke...
NNAMDIHow did you do it without getting busted?
SIDMANHow -- I mean, I wasn't even being that sneaky.
SIDMANWell, we don't have, like -- we don't really -- we don't have, like...
MENDELSOHN...yeah, we don't have photo police. It's just...
NNAMDIMaybe you need some.
MENDELSOHN...it's suggested like, please don't take pictures. That's it.
SIDMANYeah, and, I mean, I did it personally to prove a point, which is that I think these kinds of policies are a little bit silly. And I agree with everyone that there is an obnoxious way to take photos in restaurants. And there's also a discreet polite way to do it. And I think the question really comes down to who's -- and it can also be distracting to the experience. I definitely agree with that. But the question is, is it the restaurant's job to police that and tell you that, you know, you're not having enough face-to-face social interaction. Or should you make that determination on your own?
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break and when we get back we'll, as I said, broaden the discussion to the etiquette involved in all of this. But you can still call right now, 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Send us a tweet @kojoshow or go to our website and enjoy the live video stream of our conversation at kojoshow.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIThat's Spike Mendelsohn still talking even though we are on the air again. He's the chef and owner of four D.C. restaurants including Good Stuff Eatery, Béarnaise and We The Pizza. His most recent establishment called The Sheppard has a no-calls, no-photos policy which Jessica Sidman opposes.
NNAMDIShe is food editor and Young and Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She recently wrote about restaurants, love-hate relationship with Smartphones. She joins us in studio along with Tim Ma, chef and owner of Maple Ave restaurant in Vienna and Water and Wall in Arlington. And joining us now from studios at Vermont public radio is Anna Post, co-author of the 18th edition of "Emily Post's Etiquette" and the spokesperson for the Emily Post Institute. Anna Post, thank you for joining us.
MS. ANNA POSTThanks. I'm glad to be with you.
NNAMDIThis is a subset of much bigger questions about etiquette in the digital age. We used to know what was rude at the home dinner table or at a restaurant. Now the rules are not quite as clear. What kind of advice do you offer people in businesses about proper dining decor in this digital age?
POSTSure. You know, typically I have to say that, you know, I agree with Spike. When I -- I was being able to catch a little bit of the show just before -- you know, dining is about engaging with the people that you're with, whether it's a family meal with your kids, whether you're out with a client or you're just out with friends to enjoy yourself. It's not really about trying to bring extra people to the table via that Smartphone.
POSTYou know, every now and then, yes, I get that we live in a world where you have to check with the babysitter or the boss calls with an emergency. And I think that that can complicate things. But I think we have to be smart about how we handle those types of situations. I think there have to be exceptions. And I think generally the idea should be to plan to put that phone away. I like to tell people that it's not a utensil. You need to eat your food. So don't even put it on the table or it becomes tempting, you know, to look and see who that text came in from. And now you're really looking distracted. And frankly I think you really are distracted.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. Does your family have specific rules about devices at the dinner table? Tell us how you adapt your rules to new distractions, 800-433-8850. Or send us email to email@example.com. But Anna, there's also this. The issue gets a little more complex when we bring children into the mix. Most people who have gone out to dinner at 5:30 or 6:00 pm have seen kids seated with their parents with a pair of headphones on watching an iPad in the middle of a family meal. What do you make of that? is that an etiquette foul?
POSTYou know, it kind of depends one, in the restaurant that you're in. I think we all know there are some restaurants -- I think I heard La Bernardin mentioned where I don't think that would be happening. I don't think that's appropriate. I think there's others that are a lot more casual and really family-friendly. My take with that is if we've got the headphones on so we're not playing a movie out loud and bugging other people, I would treat it the way you might a coloring book. I think -- I call it the digital babysitter. And sometimes that's a helpful way for parents to get in a bite and a conversation with each other.
POSTBut if you're doing it all the time, then I think kids aren't learning to be part of the meal. And I think they're not learning how to be bored in an appropriate way as in, you know, not bouncing off the walls because they're not occupied. I think learning to be bored, even if they're bored for a minute, is an important social skill that kids do need to learn, especially in a public setting.
NNAMDILet's hear from our guests on that. Spike, what do you say?
MENDELSOHNYeah, I mean, I'd have to agree with Anna. I mean, you know, you're talking to a guy that, you know, is getting involved with a lot of food policy and a lot of food advocacy as far as children are concerned. And that children need to know where their food comes from and appreciate it and actually see the power of food rather than just an afterthought.
MENDELSOHNAnd I feel like the dinner table is where it starts at. I think that's the important place where your family can get together. You can share each others' days. You can educate each other over food. And I feel a child, even at a young age, as hard as it might be for the parents because, you know, it's the children and of course, you know, plugging him into an iPad may be the easiest route at a dinner table.
MENDELSOHNBut maybe a little bit of the extra effort on, you know, taking at least some of that moment at the dining table where you can talk food and educate your kid about food and how important it is and, you know, what's good, what's not, you know, what he likes and things like that. I think there's a -- you know, there's a valuable moment there to educate kids. And I think that it's something that our generation is missing. And it worries me.
MAIn general, I think that, you know, that's just one set of social skills, training aside from everything else. And, like, when you're sitting down and eating dinner and having a conversation and, you know, sitting correctly, eating properly, knowing where your food comes from, is a skill that you don't know that you're acquiring. And when you get older you're able to sit down at dinner and be socially active in a proper way.
MAAnd I think -- like I come from an engineering background and there's -- probably a lot of those guys grew up like nestled in their computers. And when they get to engineering school and even outside of engineering school you can tell that there's a social aspect of their lives that's missing. And not that like it's all decided by you on an iPad one night in a restaurant but if you do that over the course of, you know, your whole life, that probably adds to your social unawareness.
SIDMANSo I actually witnessed this exact scenario you just described at Little Serow, which is a very adult restaurant where you don't usually see kids. But there was a couple with a toddler. And they set her up with an iPad and she watched "Wall-E" with headphones throughout the whole dinner. And at first I was thinking, what is going on? This is -- you know, is this going to be distracting? Is this -- who brings a kid to Little Serow and sets them up with an iPad? But, you know, she -- as a result, she was very well behaved and she didn't disrupt my dinner so there's that.
NNAMDIThe coloring book analogy I guess is what suffices here. On to the telephones to see what our listeners think about this. Terri in Hyattsville, Md. You're on the air, Terri. Go ahead, please.
TERRIThank you for taking my call. I just wanted to make a quick comment. But what you were just saying brought something else to me. When I was raising my kids, we had places which were whisper restaurants. If there was linen and a candle on the table they needed to be quiet. And when we went to McDonald's they could do whatever they wanted.
TERRIBut my comment really is to the statement about when I go to your restaurant, I'm renting the space. I am renting the space.
MAYeah, do what you want.
TERRIAnd then if the person next to me is on the phone or taking pictures, they're now disturbing my rented space. And I'll tell you, I'm walking around -- I just walked out of a store because I don't do conversations in stores or restaurants. But anyway, I don't -- I'll take my -- I'll listen off the air. Thank you so much.
NNAMDIWell, Anna Post, does the environment matter? Our caller Terri says if it was a white table cloth restaurant then the kids have to behave themselves. If they're at McDonalds, then they're there for fun.
POSTYeah, I think it depends on what we're talking about in terms of behave yourself. I think good etiquette translates whether the place is formal or informal. So I think in terms of social skills and what you would expect of kids in terms of engaging with the meal, I think both, you know, Tim and Spike touched on the social side of a meal. It's why you get together and eat with other people is to interact. And so at least for that portion of the meal, yes, I think that kids need to be able to be, you know, polite and engaged. And frankly, I'd expect that at kind of like a more casual place, you know, or a more upscale to show kids that that's consistent throughout.
POSTNow, in terms of whether they get a few minutes to go and, you know, kind of run around, get the little -- I don't know, I haven't been to fast food in ages but there used to be, like, you know, whole playgrounds inside some of these places sometimes. You know, yeah, some of that will be different but -- in terms of, you know, kind of loosening up a little bit, but expecting this from kids. And, you know, it's good to practice every now and then at home dinners first which, you know, I still think are really, really important ways to connect with your kids and to teach them good manners, you know, and to teach them how to socialize. What do you talk about at the dinner table?
POSTYou know, practice that because if you go out to fine dining and kids have never had to sit quietly, you know, expecting them to be able to change right there in the moment is a losing battle.
NNAMDIHere is Kelly in Bethesda, Md. who I think owns a restaurant. Kelly, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KELLYHi, Kojo. Great show. Kind of a silly topic in my mind, I am a foodie. I am a patron of restaurants. I happen to co-own four up in the outskirts of New York City. And I think a restaurant that would ban the use of photography is just crazy. You know, yes, you have to be courteous when it comes to cell phone conversations. And those should not be -- those should be very brief, if at all, at a dinner table and in a public setting.
KELLYBut photography is the highest form of flattery. And I've never seen a situation as a patron or as an owner where I would discourage that. And I would avoid any restaurant that prohibited it. I think these folks that are prohibiting it, the restaurants, the owners, the chef, you're just taking yourself a little bit too seriously.
NNAMDIWell, there's several aspects of that issue that I would like to address, Kelly, so hang on the line for a second. First you, Spike. You know, people eat with their eyes first, it's said. Can you talk a little bit about the aesthetics of your dishes and why you wouldn't want those aesthetics photographed because you take so much time in preparing them?
MENDELSOHNWell, first I'd like to say, you know, the best way of flattery for a restaurant and a chef is seeing someone really enjoying their meal and having great conversation.
NNAMDINot sending a great photograph.
MENDELSOHNAnd not taking pictures and not -- so like the greatest form of flattery is when you see a table that's in the zone and they're really, really, really enjoying their experience. So, you know, as far as I'm concerned, that's the greatest form of flattery. And I don't prohibit pictures at my restaurants at all. I let people do whatever they want. Aesthetically, you know, it's...
NNAMDIThat's true because Sheppard is basically a bar.
MENDELSOHNYeah, Sheppard is not a restaurant. It's a bar. It's a small, small, small bar -- hidden bar, a very dark, dark bar. The...
NNAMDINot the place you're taking your kids.
MENDELSOHNYeah, not the place -- hopefully not. I have to say aesthetically for the food, again, it's a lose, lose situation. I don't think, you know, chefs and owners should waste their time getting angry or upset about the way an Instagram photo looks like or a tweet or what have you. Sometimes, to be honest, some of these photos end up being helpful. You know what I mean? I've seen a couple of burgers that look a little raw on the Twitter page. And I'm like, hey guys, you know, you better start cooking the burgers a little bit more because they're looking a little raw.
MENDELSOHNYou know, there's valuable information you can pull from social media as owners. And, you know, when you have multiple restaurants, and I have seven, sometimes these are very helpful, you know. I look at the tweet and I forward the email to my PR or my management. I'm like, guys, you know, this person didn't enjoy their service or this person's burger looks awful. Like, why did you build it that way or what have you?
MENDELSOHNSo I think it's -- you know, there's two sides to the story. And, you know, all we're saying is that let's not become such a, you know, cell phone-driven culture where we're just constantly keeping our heads down and looking at a screen and not enjoying what this beautiful earth has to offer us.
NNAMDIWell, Tim Ma, Jessica said when I saw some survey that says that it now takes twice as long to complete a meal in a restaurant as it did back in 2000...
SIDMANOkay. Can I interrupt you on that one? First of all, that story was never printed as a real story. It came from an anonymous restaurant and never confirmed.
MAAnd it was on Craigslist.
SIDMANAnd it was on Craigslist. But I -- and in my reporting I asked a lot of chefs, is it taking twice as long? Is this true? What do you think?
NNAMDIIs it taking any longer at all?
SIDMANAnd I think the general consensus was it might take a little longer, like Tim was saying. Maybe ten minutes. I think that's, you know, max. But not so much longer that it's really affecting their business or bottom line, I don't think.
MAIt's hard to deny that, you know, it's not taking longer because you think about the dining process these days. You get to the restaurant, you sit down, you get out your phone and you check it. And then you check Yelp. And then you look at the menu and you get on Google and you look up menu items and menu descriptions to make sure what's sudachi, what's (word?) . And then you get the meal, you take a picture. And, like, to add up all that time, yes, it's ten minutes. And, like, in the case of...
MENDELSOHNAnd then, there's the mid-meal selfie that you have to get out there.
MARight. Yeah, and then like at the end you get your server who's in the weeds. Take a picture of me, okay. Take multiple here -- ten phones that we've got to pass around to get the pictures. And then it gets out of hand. And when you look at it as a business, and in the case of, like, Maple Ave where the turns matter, you know, it's nine tables.
MAAnd to be even profitable you got to turn multiple times a night. And when you're adding ten minutes or whatever, that can be the difference between, you know, 8:00 -- or if it's like twenty minutes, 8:00 and 8:20. And people don't want to wait until 8:20. They want to sit down at 8:00 because otherwise that means an extra 20 minutes for the babysitter. So it does affect it when you're on a certain scale, whereas Water and Wall's completely different. Big enough that, you know, you can sacrifice those 10, 20 minutes.
NNAMDIWhat do you say about those delays, Jessica?
SIDMANI mean, I think that's fair. I talk to a lot of people about this. And I think overall the consensus was that if it was longer, it was such a small amount that it didn't really matter. But I think for the more upscale establishments it does. Maybe you're not -- maybe you're on your phone and so the server doesn't, you know, bring out the course. And then it gets cold and it's a fine dining restaurant so they're going to remake and re-plate everything. And that's going to take longer. Or, you know, they see you playing on your phone. They don't come over and take your order right away or something like that.
MENDELSOHNIt's also -- you know, our business is a business of pennies. Do you know what I mean? You really have to track every single penny. And it could mean the big difference of what your bottom line's going to be. So when you're looking at ten minutes, you know, I don't think the chefs or the restaurateurs are looking at that one day, that one ten minutes. You're multiplying it by a year, right.
MENDELSOHNAnd how many minutes of the photography or what have you in a small restaurant, specifically when, you know, it's harder to achieve a better bottom line, it's over the year then there's some profits actually, some major turning of tables, some major dollars that weren't spent that add up to be a lot of money. Someone's salary, an employee, and that's a lot to us. At the end of the day when you're running a business, running a restaurant, that's a lot of money.
NNAMDIAnna Post, etiquette questions are much easier when there's a clear definition of what's acceptable, what isn't, what's rude, what isn't. Right now these questions are somewhat subjective. How do you coach businesses and individuals to talk about their policies?
POSTYou know, the most important thing is to be clear about what you want. That's a manner in and of itself. Manners are just social expectations. And some change overtime, some don't. You know, some -- I think how we like to be treated, being treated respectfully with courtesy with, you know, consideration. You know, I think that's really more timeless. How that gets expressed does change.
POSTSo today, you know, living in more of a point of change I think it's important that people make it really clear what's expected. And, you know, if I understand correctly from one of the articles that I'd read about this -- you know, for example, heading to one of these restaurants in an elevator, it's mentioned to you, you know, by the way no photography in here. I think that's really important. You know, you can't just come up and scold somebody when they thought that maybe the rules were something else, that this is okay. You know, now you've got an angry, you know, offended, defensive diner on your hands and that's no good for anybody.
POSTI think it's really important, you know, on the customer side to always opt into your environment. You know, if you know that a restaurant has no photography or no cell phones, then you need to abide by those rules when you go. You know, their house, their rules. But on the flipside, you know, I think it is important to be clear about what's expected and to try to be courteous in correcting people who make a mistake with it, you know, rather than -- not that I think anybody's doing that here but, you know, rather than getting nasty about it.
POSTBut the more that you can be clear up front about the expectation, the more people can decide where they're going to dine. You know, we heard from one person who said, I'm not going to go there. I think there's a lot of people who might instead choose to go there because they're like, yeah, you know, that sounds like the kind of experience that I want to have. Or more importantly, that's the food I want to have and sure, I don't mind putting my phone away.
NNAMDILike the silent car when you're traveling on the train. Here's Brian in Fairfax, Va. Brian, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BRIANHi. I just wanted to ask you guys a quick question. Have you ever thought of installing, like, a cell phone check at the beginning of the meal?
NNAMDITreat it like firearms?
BRIANLike, check your cell phone before you sit down.
MENDELSOHNYeah, you know, there's a bar that does it in L.A. I forgot the name of it but, you know -- and then there's also a Stephen Starr -- or a lot of Stephen Starr restaurants at the front of the restaurant they have, like, a cell phone charging post and somewhere where you can actually lock your phone and you grab a key. Or there's like a code or what have you. And I think those are cool.
MENDELSOHNI think being responsible for someone's phone, like in demanding -- it's very -- you know, someone's phone at this day and age is very personal. So saying, hey you have to give me your phone on entry and I have to lock it away, that might be a little bit too abrasive. But offering the charging post or the locker I think can be kind of cool. And, you know, we talked about that. So, yeah, I think that's a cool idea.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation on Smartphones, food photography and dining etiquette. You can call us at 800-433-8850 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. How has technology affected your rules of good behavior at the dinner table? Are the rules of good etiquette timeless or are they shifting with technology, 800-433-8850? I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. It's a Food Wednesday conversation on dining etiquette, Smartphones, food photography. We're talking with Anna Post, co-author of the 18th edition of "Emily Post's Etiquette" and the spokesperson for the Emily Post Institute. Anna is the great-granddaughter of Emily Post, the original doyenne of American etiquette. She joins us from studios at Vermont Public Radio.
POSTIn our Washington studio, Tim Ma, chef and owner of Maple Ave restaurant in Vienna and Water and Wall in Arlington. Spoke Mendelsohn is chef and owner of four D.C. restaurants including Good Stuff Eatery, Béarnaise and We The Pizza. His most recent establishment bar -- speakeasy style bar called The Sheppard. That has a no-calls, no-photos policy. And Jessica Sidman who violated that policy is food editor and Young and Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper.
SIDMANRebel without a cause.
NNAMDIJessica recently wrote about restaurants' love-hate relationship with Smartphones. We're inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells wrote a, well, I guess interesting article on this topic last month. And he posited that we are witnessing a new genre of cooking, which he calls camera cuisine. He argues that chefs are changing their cooking styles and presentation with an eye towards looking good for Instagram. And he also said that some of these restaurants are sacrificing taste in order to come up with really cool looking plates. How does the camera affect the way you design menus and recipes, Tim Ma?
MAYou see that all the time where you see somebody taking pictures of the food. And you're like, okay, they're blogging, they're, you know, a secret critic or they're just, you know, posting on Instagram. And sometimes they have, like, big cameras, big lenses. And, like, I'm guilty of it too where, you know, okay, what can I do to make this dish prettier because it's not pretty. You throw an edible flower on it without doing anything to the edible flower and you send it out. And you're like, that did nothing for the dish in terms of taste. But, okay, guess what? That's the only piece of the plate that has color.
MAAnd for me, you know, and for the most part minus this edible flower occasionally, you know, the taste is the final thing, especially at, you know, Maple where it's a lot more casual. You put out plates that taste good. And that should speak to the restaurant, not so much, okay, this -- you know, this pretty plate with 15 components. None of them make sense together. And you see that all the time. And it's pretty and they look awesome. It gets people to the restaurant, but it doesn't get them coming back, which is kind of the more important...
MENDELSOHNYou know, it's interesting. You know, I didn't have a chance to read that article but I would be surprised if serious chefs, you know, are really adjusting their food plating to make sure that they ensure an amazing Instagram photo or what have you. You know, I worked in a lot of restaurants for many years. And, you know, I've always had that moment in the kitchen when you're, you know -- it's like your plating something and you're making it look good. And then you back up a couple feet and you look at it. You bend over a little bit and you're like, okay. And then you're like, that looks like a sexy plate.
MENDELSOHNAnd for me that's enough, you know what I mean, knowing that that sexy plate is going to hit the table and then that guest is going to look at it and be impressed, because people do eat with their eyes first. I think that's why chefs make food look gorgeous because in the course of dining, people eat with their eyes first and then they smell, then they take a bite.
MENDELSOHNAnd I think that's something that, you know, if you're trained classically or not classically, it doesn't really matter. The same rules apply. I don't think Instagram or Twitter are really driving, you know, this thing about chefs try to make food look good. I think that was already instilled before even Smartphones or -- existed. So...
NNAMDIJessica, because the food looks beautiful doesn't have to be tasty.
SIDMANThat's -- I mean, how it looks always matters, but how it tastes always matter a lot more. And as an example of a local restaurant that is taking the camera-ready cuisine into account. Oval Room, which has been around for 20 years, they recently underwent this million dollar renovation and reopened. And they've really been encouraging people to take Instagrams and videos. And have decided to do all these table-side preparations that would make you want to shoot a photo or a video of it. And that, I think, was the goal of doing it table side so that people will want to capture that moment.
MENDELSOHNWe should develop and app that we literally sit in the kitchen and right before they get their food, every guest gets an Instagram photo of their plate that's about to come to them.
NNAMDIThat will save a lot of time. Anna Post, it looks like a lot of restaurants these days are doing all kinds of things to make sure their guests are not bored. Some blast music, some have TVs by the bar. What do you think about that?
POSTYou know, there's an experience for everybody. You know, I'm not a sports bar kind of girl myself but I get that, like, lots of people love that. And that's the outlet that they want. So, you know, I love that there's variety for people but I think the kind of trend that you're talking about right there, you know, has to do more with us checking out socially from the people that we're with.
POSTAnd, yeah, there's places that are great for that. And there's, you know, experiences that are great for that. But I think a lot of the reason, as I said before, that we usually dine together is to interact with one another. And for me that's always the main goal. You know, I talk about this. If it's -- you know, I teach a lot of business etiquette seminars to corporations. We talk a lot about the fact that, like, look if you're with a client, this is the person whose attention you want. Why would you ever divide yourself from that, you know?
POSTFor me it's the same thing with my friends. You know, Burlington, Vt. where I live, we've got just a killer food scene up here. And if I'm going out to dinner with my friends, you know, the last thing I'm doing is texting with people who aren't there. I mean, you know, I want to just immerse myself and enjoy that experience, enjoy that food, you know, hang out with the people that I'm with and really enjoy that.
POSTAnd I think, you know, a lot of those distractions may seem like you're satisfying the customer but I think there's also plenty of people who don't need it but now become distracted by it because it's there. So, you know, again I don't want to judge too much because, like I said, everybody kind of has a different reason why they go out. But for me I think that if restaurants can kind of focus on -- you know, if the idea is to focus on getting people to, you know, as Spike said, being in that zone and really enjoying their food, then I'd switch off the TVs. You know, stop offering the phone chargers. But, you know, that's one approach.
NNAMDIHere's Andrew in College Park, Md. Andrew, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANDREWHi, Kojo. Thank you for taking my call. I'm 24 years old. I'm definitely a digital native and I have my cell phone attached to me at all times. But I think increasingly just through my own self experimentation and with my friends, I've found that at certain times my friends and I really enjoy not having the distraction of cell phones. I've hosted parties in the past where it was explicitly stated that the party was a no-cell phone party, that people had to turn in their cell phones in order to come to the party.
ANDREWSimilarly I've gone out to dinner with friends where we said we had all our cell phones in the center of the table and we couldn't touch them. And more and more we're finding that we really appreciate these times where we don't have the distraction of our cell phones in which we can really talk, like, face-to-face and in person and not have the distraction.
ANDREWAnd I think, you know, there are definitely times and places where I want to have that where I really enjoy not having my cell phone. But again, you know, if I'm at just, you know, not a really fancy restaurant, if I'm eating by myself, I do like to have my cell phone with me. And so, you know, I think there's definitely a time and a place for not having cell phones, which I really appreciate. And I think that's increasing. But I think the tendency to ban them or to, you know, have unspoken rules about not having cell phones, I think is a little silly.
NNAMDIAnna, what if you're dining alone? This is not really a socializing experience.
POSTYeah, the tree in the woods, right? I'll be honest. I travel a lot for business and I will sometimes read on my iPad. But I do it if it's not a crowded restaurant and I'm kind of more away from other people. To be honest, you know, does that even really matter? It probably doesn't, but for me, you know, part of etiquette, as I said before, is about being respectful and considerate. And, you know, and opting, as I said, into that environment. And if you're there to be eating then if me being on my iPad, you know, might be distracting to other diners, then I want to kind of, you know, minimize that.
POSTBut there's a -- I think -- you know, the caller hit on something that to me is a really, really important point. And he kind of got it at one way and I'm going to get it at another, which is the attention we give to other people. You know, I mentioned that etiquette is about your interactions with people and your relationships and being respectful and considerate. One of the ways we demonstrate respect in our actions is by giving people our full attention. And you really know when someone's not giving you all of your (sic) attention.
POSTYou know, you may be on your phone and you think that you're, you know, active listening, you're all uh-huh, uh-huh, um-hum, um-hum while you're, you know, going with the thumbs and getting back to somebody on the phone. You know, you think that you're fully paying attention to both beings. I really, one, don't think you are. But even if you were, you don't look like you are to that other person at the table. Part of you is checked out, not giving full attention. And I think the equation, you know, goes perfectly into not giving full respect to that person. I think it's why it bugs us, you know, when people do it even though it seems like kind of a small thing.
POSTSo for me, if you just kind of extend that into the whole meal, I do think that it kind of is disrespectful to the other people at the table. And, you know, if everybody at the table wants to be on their phones, well, great. But why are you going out to dinner?
NNAMDIWell, Tim, Spike, Jessica, I'm just curious. What are some crazy things that you have witnessed being done all in the name of getting the perfect camera shot?
MAI've definitely seen what I would call obscene camera set ups. I've never seen, like, a tripod in the restaurant but it's just like where the lens is bigger than the camera and he's standing up. And his wife is posing with the food and she's trying to hold it while it's not slipping off the plate. Like, that to me -- and all this while you're in a tiny restaurant and everybody's just watching you.
MAAnd, you know, that's in one way's annoying because everybody stops from eating and the food's dying and the presentation's not going the way it's supposed to. But, you know, I've heard of other stories where tripods are involved. And...
NNAMDIHave you seen tripods?
MENDELSOHNNo tripods that I know of. But, you know, I did have a table that literally took forever taking pictures of their food and ended up returning their food to the kitchen because it was cold.
NNAMDIIt took that long.
NNAMDIHow about you, Jessica?
SIDMANWell, so I have my own set of photo-taking etiquette rules. And one is not to bring a huge camera with a lens that's giant -- that's bigger than the actual camera. You can just use your phone. It takes great photos. I have the...
NNAMDIStand up on your chair?
SIDMANNo, don't stand up on your chair. I have also what I like to call the other five-second rule where -- which is basically take your photo in less than five seconds. You can do it. You can do it, people. It does not take five minutes to get a photo. And then also I think...
MENDELSOHNIs that the same five seconds when the food hits the floor?
SIDMANUnrelated. I mean, they could be related I suppose, after you pick up the -- pick it up after the -- from the floor then you can take the photo. And then wait until after dinner to post it on social media. I see a lot of people who, you know, they take the photo, maybe they take it quick but then they spend all this time, like, picking their Instagram filter and tagging their friends or whatever. I mean, you want to remember the experience -- the meal. But you also want to experience the meal. So you can do that very quickly and then later when you're home upload the photos.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's about all the time we have. Nobody likes bad food photography, not your followers, not of the diners and definitely not the restaurant where you're eating. So at the very least if you're going to take photos, make them brief and make them good. Jessica Sidman is food editor and Young and Hungry columnist with Washington City Paper. Jessica, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDISpike Mendelsohn is chef and owner of four D.C. restaurants including Good Stuff Eatery, Béarnaise and We The Pizza. His most recent establishment, a speakeasy style bar called The Sheppard has a no-calls, no-photos policy. Spike, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDITim Ma, chef and owner of Maple Ave restaurant in Vienna and Water and Wall in Arlington. Tim, good to meet you.
NNAMDIAnd Anna Post is co-author of the 18th edition of "Emily Post's Etiquette" and the spokesperson for the Emily Post Institute. Anna Post, thank you for joining us.
POSTThanks, great to be with you again.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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