Food Critic Nation: Is Picture Sharing at Restaurants Really in Jeopardy?

Mouthwatering Photos — Pongr CEO Jamie Thompson recently sunk his teeth (and camera phone) into this steak at Manhattan’s Les Halles restaurant. Double click the photo to fully engage your senses.

Every time you go out to eat, do you treat your food like a supermodel?

The New York Times reports that numerous celebrity chefs and high-end gourmet restaurants are getting fed up (forgive the pun) with the amount of flash photography happening at mealtime.

Some restaurants will not allow the use of a flash. New York’s Momufoku Ko and Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare have banned food photography altogether, arguing that it ruins the social atmosphere. Other restaurants are providing a digital library of professionally shot menu items for customers to share with their friends.

My favorite overzealous food photo story from the Times comes from Emma Kate Tsai, a Houston resident who gets embarrassed by her 64-year-old father’s insistence on lugging his large DSLR camera to the table (no discreet iPhone or Samsung Galaxy for him):

“It’s really irritating,” she said, “because we can’t take a bite unless he takes his photo… Of course, he’s not taking pictures of us or his grandkids, which compounds the issue for me.”


Her father, a NASA engineer, used to put his photos into PowerPoint presentations and send the huge files to them through e-mail. “They were, like, 11 megabytes,” she said with a laugh. “Now he’s got Facebook, thank God.” Still, she worries about what will happen when her father stops working. “I think when he retires it’s just going to get worse,” she said.

As the increasing quality of mobile cameras threaten to make point-and-shoot digital cameras obsolete, millions of casual and serious foodies alike are documenting every bite for their blogs or social networks.

If you browse the daily photo feed (pun absolutely intended) at Pongr, you’ll see foodies sharing their meals because they want to spread some love for their favorite dish at their favorite restaurant, whether it be the neighborhood cafe, cheesesteak joint or trendy hotspot.

Pongr user Mike L. shares a recent oyster dinner washed down with a Bud Light.

Everyone is a food critic now.

Everyone is their own one-man or one-woman version of Zagat, with personal food photos carrying much more weight with friends in regards to choosing their next place to eat.

This explains why OpenTable, the restaurant reservations website, announced that it is buying Foodspotting, a food-sharing photo app, for $10 million.

Here’s NPR’s Marketplace explaining the sale:

So what is the company hoping to get? To start, Foodspotting’s three million users. (Morningstar analyst R.J.) Hottovy says if OpenTable can turn those food photographers into reservation-makers it could be a valuable source of income.


Then there are the pictures, themselves. David Bell, a marketing professor at Wharton, says even though we think of them as random photos, OpenTable sees them as a new source of market data. It’s better to capture “consumers in the wild,” says Bell, than to quiz them later with a survey.

“Capturing consumers in the wild.”  That is exactly what Pongr’s Photo Response Marketing platform does best, whether it’s contests encouraging supermarket shoppers to photograph product logos or CPG packaging, or more unconventional out-of-the-box promotions.

People naturally love to pose for pictures and photograph what they love (and want and buy). And while we certainly don’t condone cell phone paparazzi who bother the people around them, photo sharing in restaurants is one trend that’s here to stay.

(Pongr’s Photo Response Marketing platform helps brands harness information from customer generated photos for their CRM database. Learn more.)

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