Diners, grab your cameras. People keen to immortalise their meals have won the photography war, with restaurants set to adopt a national policy encouraging the practice.
A protocol from the Restaurant and Catering Association will take a "common-sense" approach to snap-happy customers, in tacit acknowledgment of the groundswell of diners using Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter to circulate pictures of their food.
"It makes sense to let customers do the publicity for you," says Restaurant and Catering national president Matteo Pignatelli, owner of Fitzroy North restaurant Matteo's. "Seriously, when everyone is doing it anyway, why wouldn't you?"
The practice has divided restaurant owners since the pioneers started taking their cameras to dinner. Just five years ago it seemed the pendulum was swinging the other way, with restaurants becoming openly hostile to food photography. Locally, the likes of Grossi Florentino, Der Raum and Bar Americano have attracted publicity for their anti-photo stance; internationally, high-profile chefs such as David Chang have banned it outright (Chang allows photography but has banned the use of flash at his Sydney outpost, Momofuku Seiobo).
These days Grossi Florentino is welcoming to wielders of cameras. "It's healthy and positive because it's about getting a message out there," says Liz Grossi. "It's the way of the world."
Vue de Monde is also happy with picture-taking – head chef Cory Campbell says most diners take a snap or five – unless they use flash or start annoying other customers. "I'm all for the photos," says Campbell. "But people bring in these massive cameras and don't talk to each other all night."
The protocol, which Pignatelli expects will be adopted at a meeting later this month, will include social media's wider applications. Most restaurants are now on Facebook and Twitter, and he wants them to take the extra step: "People are inevitably going to Tweet about their meals, so it's up to restaurants to say, if you're going to do it, here are the tags to use."
One of the biggest objections of restaurateurs to diner-generated photos has been the tendency for their painstakingly plated dishes to look like indeterminate gloop captured in the half-light. Food photography courses geared towards restaurant diners are on the rise, as are apps such as Foodie Snap Pak.
"We want to portray the food in the best possible light," says I-Hua Lim, who blogs at The Chronicles of Ms I-Hua & The Boy and uses an SLR camera – strictly without the flash. "A lot of people are taking pictures with their iPhones and iPads and the results are quite shocking. If you're going to do it, you might as well do it well." The first step is the most practical: "Places like Vue de Monde and Quay get really dim at night, so we go at lunch."