Monday 18 January 2010

Awkward Food Blogging Moments

Or is there?

This is a slightly unusual post as it's not about food - it's about food blogging and my first uncomfortable experiences as a food blogger. Now, to give you some background, I have not been food blogging that long. It has been less than 6 months, but it has been an absolute pleasure. I have learnt a lot, seen a lot and have met some truly wonderful people. However, my experiences over the weekend have left me feeling, well... a bit 'icky'.

Over the weekend I visted two stores in the eastern suburbs of Sydney. I will not name names because this is not a name and shame exercise. Dear readers, I am seeking your advice. So here is what happened...

On Saturday I visit a produce store. It is my first visit and I am impressed. Luckily I have my camera with me in the car, so I bring it in and start to take some snaps of the amazing produce and deli section. I order a cheese from the deli that I have been searching for forever, and I start chatting with the lovely man serving me, who is only to happy to answer my questions about different types of cheeses. I take another picture or so, then look up to see a cranky face looking right at me.. I am assuming she is the owner. "Madam, may I ask why you're taking photos?!" she enquires looking rather alarmed. "Oh", I say, rather taken aback.."I have a food blog and I wanted to share with my readers where people can get this type of cheese because it's hard to find in Sydney". "Right", she replies unenthusiastically and walks away. After she says this, I feel like I've done something terribly wrong. I pay for my cheese and leave, and I question whether I need to ask permission to take photos each and every place I go.

On Sunday I visit the second store as I have done several times before but this time I am equipped with my big camera hanging around my neck and my shopping basket in my hand. The produce is looking great and there is a special buzz in the air because it's a weekend. Given my experience the day before, I approach what appears to be the store manager and politely explain that I am a food blogger, and ask would she mind if I take a couple of pictures. "Um no, sorry", she replies as she walks away. Again, I am left feeling a little uncomfortable and embarassed.

I am puzzled. I understand that business owners are protective of their business. However, what I don't understand is why they do not see it as a wonderful opportunity to promote their business through online media - for free I might add... Food blogging is of course more than this, but I'm trying to look at it from a business owner's prespective. So, I guess in summary this is what I am having trouble getting my head around...
  • Am I wrong to feel as though I have done something bad?
  • Is it that they assume I will write something negative when in reality I would have had only positive things to say (apart from the abovementioned negative experiences)?
  • Is it that they think someone will copy something from their store? If so, surely any such intellectual property could be "stolen" simply by walking in as a member of the public and making a mental note of it.

Now, I must say I have never had such experiences in cafes/restaurants. But after the weekend I feel so awkward about the prospect of taking photos at the next place (store, restaurant or other)! And if I feel awkward, then that will probably impede on my enjoyment, let alone the likelihood of my blogging about it.

So tell me, my dear fellow food bloggers.. has this ever happened to you? How do you get around it? I would appreciate your advice :)

Ladybird x


  1. In my short time of food blogging (around 4 months) I have been told on perhaps five occasions that either photos or cameras are not permitted. I'm usually embarrassed when I'm told so I don't think to ask why, neither does the other party bother to explain.

    There's arguments for photos either way but I still believe that if my friend (non-blogger) was allowed to take photos at The Fat Duck then everyone else should permit it! Swing by Not Quite Nigella to read about her experience at a Surry Hills cafe...

  2. Yeah, it's a really difficult one. I've been in a store/cafe, and downstairs in the store been yelled at to put my camera away but upstairs in the cafe, it's all fine. As you rightly point out, if people want to rip off fit out/merchandising ideas they could just walk in and take notes, sketch etc

    Some business owners may have had previous bad experiences, and for that you can't blame them for being protective, after all it's their livelihood and our hobby.
    However, we are customers, and one way or another we are going to tell all and sundry about our experiences good or bad, because we love and are interested and passionate about food. We may not end up doing it with pictures, which is where we need to become better writers, but we'll certainly tell.

    Also, again as you point out, it is free publicity for the restaurant or store. Particularly in these hyperconnected times, these people should not be so negative. You never know who you're customers are, or work for. Reminds of Pretty Woman...

  3. i think you have to try and put yourself in their shoes. although it's hard to do when you're use to taking photos of everything in sight. imagine you were a store owner and you didn't know anything about food blogging or had no such interest in such things and people were coming into your store photographing. you might feel a bit strange, exposed and uncomfortable. it's not like it's an organise photoshoot which has been set up days in advance and who are they to know who you are and what food blogging is or even if you actually are who you say you are. i think when in doubt ask first and then politely agree to whatever they decide. i sometimes think we have to step down from the food blogger attitude of thinking we might be the best thing in the world for someone's business. possibly we might but unfortunately not everyone thinks like that nor should they. :-)

  4. Hmm... I guess sometimes store owners think that other customers may be bothered by it? Not sure really - having said that - sometimes it's better to ask forgiveness than permission?!? :)

  5. I have only been blogging for about 7 months and have not tried taking photos in public just in case.....I just think that no matter how good our intentions are, we stand the risk of being misunderstood. People these days are very careful and more suspicious.

  6. Hi everyone,

    Thanks for all of your comments! I think this is an important and interesting area of discussion.

    Hi Mademoiselle, I checked out NQN's Surry Hills experience as you mentioned. My God! Sounds positively dreadful.. Nothing warrants yelling at customers - period.

    Hi Reemski, I absolutely concur with you on the point that it is their livelihood and our hobby, and this is something I try to keep at the back of my mind. It would really be great if business owners could see food blogging in a positive light, but I guess we shouldn't hold our breath on that one... At any rate, I will endeavour to conquer their fears with good manners!

    Hi Simon, Point taken and I think that will be my approach her on in. However, I have always made a point to keep my photography very discrete. I do my best not to photograph fellow shoppers, and if there is a crowd I usually hang back till it's quieter before taking shots. I can understand it may irk their clientele and I respect that.

    Hi Trissa, Yes I see your point also. It will be interesting to test my "ask first approach" in the coming weeks. I am concerned that people will just say no if they are in doubt, in which case I might end up with next to no photos at all.

    Hi Mary, Ah yes.. people are more wary and suspicious nowadays. It is such a shame to see this even when we make our good intentions clear.

  7. At first I felt very awkward taking food pictures at restaurant, but now it has become a habit....snap snap away whenever food is served! LOL!

  8. As mademoiselle délicieuse mentioned, I did have a particularly bad episode at that cafe which was awful and I won't go back there again. Some places are so open to photographs and don't see it as a problem at all but some aren't. I always look at it like if they don't want me to write about them that's fine, I won't.

    It's how they express it that I often have an issue with and if you're made to feel embarrassed then they haven't handled it very well. When I was at the Donna Hay store I was asked very politely not to take photos but it was done in such a way that I wasn't embarrassed at all. I think some people think that we might be the competition checking up on them. I also find it sometimes helps to carry your blog business cards.

  9. People can be really rude about you taking photos , they think you are the competition or get narky that they won't have access to the review before you post it. Unfortunately for them, blogging will continue to happen and people will either take sneakier photos (which is why I take crappy crappy crappy photos on my iphone!) or just review them with no photos. If it is a good review, then that is their loss because you are then likely to comment about how rude they are.

    I do understand where they are coming from though, it is their business and I would be protective of that. i think carrying business cards does help, and If I go into a store I ALWAYS ASK FIRST. If i'm in a restaurant I take photos when the staff aren't watching on my phone which is why I get poor photos, but I am struggling with the concept of taking a huge camera and taking photos with that.. argh! It is so awkward and embarrassing.

    Maybe next time someone says 'no' you could politely reply - 'not a problem, was there any specific reasons why not?'

  10. Hi Pete - I admire your enthusiasm!

    Hi Lorraine - I certainly don't blame you for not wanting to go back there! You are right, sometimes it is the way that it is said that makes all the difference. Yes I have bn thinking about getting a blog business card...

    Hi Gastronomy Gal - LOL! yes I've tried using my hubby's iPhone to take sneaky snaps, but they've never turned out well. I am in love with my camera, so I refuse not to try and use it wherever possible. I will just have to be more tenacious, and if someone doesn't want any photos, then I probably won't write about them either.

  11. Oh no, sorrry to hear about your experiences. I dont think you did anything wrong at all.
    If I wanted to take a photo of food I would probably take some photos of who ever im with and then snap one of the food, no one would even notice. Or wait until the workers arent watching, I think i would get quite embarrased if someone said something. Phone photos are a great idea as a couple of people have said, that way its not obvious at all, although the quality is obviously not as great.

    Goodluck with your future photo taking :)


  12. What a great post! I thought I was all alone in this! When I first started blogging (which really wasn't that long ago!) I took all my photos on my Iphone.

    Not particularly good quality but it was very discreet. Why? Because I was yelled at in a Cafe and asked to delete the photo.

    I have never been more embarrassed in my life.

    So sometimes I still use my Iphone, especially if the light is okay - and if I'm feeling particulary brave - will take my camera with me, but do still feel quite self concious - especially if I need to use the flash...

    I agree with Trissa - much better to ask forgiveness than permission.

  13. I loved this blog and everyones' responses as it is something we all have or will face as bloggers along the line. As yet I have not been told not to take photos in relation to food, but like yourself have only been blogging for a short time.

    I wont ask if I can take photos, but take the approach that I will apologise if I have offended the owner or staff and not take any more. I also carry bellyrumbles business cards to make myself a bit more ligit on my intentions.

    Funny enough though a few days back in Soho when I walked into a shop (camera was out as I was playing tourist) I was snapped at as soon as I walked into the shop (not a food related one) that I could not take pictures. To which I replied, why would I want to take pictures? Which left her with a sour look on her face and me departing the store promptly due to her snappiness. I was put off as a potential customer and did not bother to look further at her wares.


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