Instagram and posting photos of the food we eat was an interesting point of discussion on this week’s episode, and it has become an increasingly popular part of dining out. We’ve all been to dinner with that one friend who, as soon as the food hits the table, reaches for their phone before they pick up their fork. We are then forced to bear witness to a strange dance and ritual as they contort themselves and click away in an attempt to get the perfect beauty shot. And only once the digital blessing has been bestowed are we then given permission to dig in to the now-cold food. It begs one to wonder, “If you don’t photograph it, did you really eat it?”
Now that 95% of Americans own a cellphone of some kind, restaurants have begun to capitalize on the free advertising and publicity potential of Instagram by creating more photogenic and “Instagram-worthy” dishes. Over-the-top desserts, carefully selected serving vessels, creative drink garnishes, and literal smoke and mirrors are employed to make dishes camera ready. After all, you never know which customer clicking away may have 20,000 followers at their disposal. In addition to beautiful food, I’ve also seen restaurants incorporate design elements such as neon signs proclaiming, “Rose All Day” or even flashy bathroom wallpaper that can serve as whimsical backdrops for Instagram posts. Locations are then geo-tagged so followers are given a heads-up on where they should go for their next outing. Diners may seek out these places just because they saw a photo of it in their social media feed, and this can be a way for restaurants to stand out in an ever-competitive restaurant market.
Some restaurateurs and diners, however, bemoan the increasing intrusion of digital devices in our lives. They’re encouraging us to put our phones away, harkening back to a time when dining out was about connecting over a shared meal and not the ‘Gram. Recently, Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park announced that diners at his highly acclaimed temple to gastronomy will be given the option to lock their smartphones away in a box as a way to “stay present” and “enjoy the moment.” Rather than communicating with your virtual online friends, pay attention to the ones actually sitting with you at the dinner table. I believe I may have uttered similar words to my teenage nieces, but I too have felt the call of the phone and it’s difficult for me to get through a meal without reaching for it.
I take and post photos of my food because it’s fun, and I get a real sense of satisfaction when one of those photos gets a lot of “likes.” I enjoy cataloging my epicurean exploits and sharing the genuine enthusiasm I have for something that I have discovered that is truly delicious, and I want others to go out and experience the same. But I also realize that it is still very important to maintain a mindful balance, and to not get distracted from the real reason we go out to eat - and that is to enjoy each other’s company in the moment. After all, I don’t want to have to ask my friends, “If we go out to dinner, did it really happen?”