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Is it rude to photograph your food? Al, NYC restaurateurs weigh in

Jan. 29, 2013 at 4:26 PM ET

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Put down that camera! In some New York City restaurants, you're not allowed to take photos.

It’s become a 21st century restaurant ritual: You order food, it comes to your table, and then it’s time to — no, not eat it — photograph it.

Countless Instagram accounts and blog posts obsessively document diners’ food adventures, some lavishing special attention on those oh-so-hard-to-get-into restaurants. But now certain New York City chefs are fighting back by restricting photography at the table, according to a New York Times article published last weekend.

The topic has inspired some serious debate in the Twitterverse and beyond, with photo-happy diners and their critics weighing in on both sides. It even fired up the TODAY anchors this morning, especially Al Roker, who vehemently defended his right to take a quick snap.

“Guess what: Once I bought it, it’s mine. Shut up!” Al said. “What are you going to do, come and take it out of my mouth?

Willie Geist, on the other hand, was dubious about the whole practice of sharing food photos via social media. “What am I supposed to do with that tweet?” he asked. “Congratulate you for a good-looking meal?”

Al quickly shot back: “Here’s an idea: Don’t look! What’s the big deal, has your life been ruined by this? Lighten up!”

He added a few final words for chefs out there: “Someone thinks enough of your food to take a picture of it. Why are you whining?”

The chefs in question include David Chang of Momofuku Ko and Moe Issa of Brooklyn Fare, who were featured in the Times article because they’ve banned photography in their small restaurants. Other establishments merely discourage the practice, or might tell you to turn off your flash so it’s less distracting.

At Bouley, you’ll have to make a trip back to the kitchen to snap a photo of your dish before it comes out. Chef David Bouley tweeted Tuesday that the rules are “flexible, our goal [is] for you to learn something about out ingredients/techniques: go beyond [a] photograph into flavor and health.”

But does the photo backlash spell the end of food porn, as many online have suggested? Probably not.

Even David Chang permits photography in his larger restaurants, and few establishments have formal policies regarding the matter. One Latin American restaurant in New York City, Comodo, embraces social-media sharing and enables customers to upload photos of their meals to an “Instagram menu.” And OpenTable, the popular restaurant reservations site, recently bought Foodspotting, a food photography app, for $10 million, reports Forbes.

Bobby Flay, who owns several New York City restaurants, says he sees no cause for concern.

“Taking photos of dishes in restaurants is now part of our social media culture, and I welcome it in all of my restaurants, from my higher end places like Mesa Grill and Bar Americain to my burger joints,” Flay told TODAY.com. “I'm always flattered that customers would take a moment to document and then send out a photo of my shrimp tamale or a big bowl cioppino. The bonus? It's free advertising. I say, ‘Shoot away!’”

Other restaurants have capitalized on the controversy, including Boston’s Sportello, which tweeted, “foodstagramming is alive and well at sportello! Come in and #tweetwhatyoueat.”

In the end, Al was there to remind us to keep these things in perspective.

“Folks, the food Instagram thing not a big deal. Willie and I are having fun. There’s plenty in the world to get really steamed about,” he later tweeted.

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