Chefs & Restaurateurs Weigh In On Dining Out In The Instagram Age

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by Meagan Albrechtson | Snapping masterpieces of kale crisps and Sous-vide segments of pork belly has become routine in today’s restaurant culture. Those who haven’t Instagrammed a dish themselves may roll their eyes at the table doing it beside them: blinding flashes and arranging plates for the perfect overhead shot. While our obsession with social media may be tiresome to some restaurants, others consider the exposure it generates to be a blessing.

Joël Watanabe, Executive Chef of Bao Bei Brasserie, often sees guests staring down at their screens for their entire meal. “Really, you should just put your fucking phone away when you go out for dinner,” he says. “You’re there to have a meal, converse with your friends and be a human being – not to be attached to your phone.

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Michael Robbins, on the other hand, couldn’t care less whether or not guests whip out their cameras or smartphones. The co-owner and executive chef of AnnaLena says it’s the way society is evolving and sees no point in complaining. “If I’m out with my wife and we’re on our phones too much, I’ll get annoyed at myself or at her. But that’s our life, I’m not going to look at someone in the restaurant that’s pulled out a second flash and is doing all this stupid shit because they enjoy it.”

Robbins utilizes his own Instagram as an outlet to reflect his artistic cooking style. “It’s not enough just to taste good for me, I need it to look good,” he says. But while social media serves as a gallery for his restaurant, he doesn’t give it as much credit as his industry peers. “I see people who have great accounts whose businesses fail, and others who have nothing to do with social media who have line-ups down the block.”

Whether restaurants should credit an increase in business to all this digital attention remains debatable. “Social media has fostered and supported my restaurants in their own right,” says Paul Grunberg, co-owner of L’Abattoir and of Savio Volpe. “I think a large percentage of people rely on it for direction.” Grunberg believes once a dish lands in front of a guest, they can do whatever they want with it. “People see dining experiences as moments. It shouldn’t be taken away from them.”

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Chef David Gunawan thinks our fascination with social media comes from something deeper. “We’re such a digitized generation, it all stems from insecurity and seeking approval of what we’re doing.” Gunawan, who opened The Farmer’s Apprentice, Royal Dinette and Grapes & Soda, says people now have a compulsion to take pictures of whatever they’re doing, regardless of the activity.

He argues that while social media can be a good marketing strategy, his surrounding community has always been first and foremost. “They’re not seeking to be a part of something that’s hot or hip, they generally just want to be fed and have a good time.”

While opinion is evidently varied, one thing is certain: the advent of the social media age in restaurants hasn’t made food taste better or worse. And since our fixation with double taps and aerial feasts doesn’t look like it’s going away any time soon, diners should be able to co-exist peacefully — just leave the flash off!

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There are 2 comments

  1. “Michael Robbins, on the other hand, could care less …”

    is meaningless. What you ought to have written

    “Michael Robbins, on the other hand, could not care less

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