Grant Achatz, the famous Chicago-based molecular gastronomist, wrote a much-forwarded post several years ago grousing about diners who snap the meal away and even try to video his staff without asking permission. "I can't imagine how celebrities feel," he wrote. "No wonder they punch the paparazzi out when they get the chance."
Some restaurateurs go with the digital flow. Sarabeth Levine, of New York City-based Sarabeth's, said she's perfectly fine with people chatting, playing games or even taking pictures. It's free advertising, after all.
"I'm happy to have our customers," Levine said. "They come, they tweet, they Facebook, they bring their children. It's high energy to begin with. I mean, people are noisy even in the way they speak today."
Other restaurants go as far as to bar picture taking, like David Chang's Ko in Mahnattan. Others take a middle ground, like the high-end Washington, D.C., restaurant Rogue 24, where hostesses politely tell guests that if they do take pictures, please do so without a distracting flash.
"I mean you can't fight it," said owner R. J. Cooper. "Why fight a losing battle?"
Actually, the battle might already be lost.
The use of hand-held devices at the table is implicitly encouraged at the growing number of restaurants that offer Wi-Fi access or accept payment via smartphone. The Manhattan restaurant Comodo even encourages guests to upload pictures of their dishes to Instagram with the hashtag (hash)comodomenu to create a user-generated "Instagram menu." Sharing trends are likely to accelerate as the generation who has no memory of a world before cell phones comes of age.
Already, about one in five U.S. adults say they share online when eating a meal with others, and more than a third of teens do the same, according to the 2012 State of Mobile Etiquette Survey for Intel Corp.
The same survey found 81 percent of U.S. adults believe mobile manners are getting worse, up 6 percentage points from last year. A Zagat survey this month found most respondents disapproving of texting, tweeting and emailing when eating out, but a majority accepted picture taking.
"I think it's about having more time under our belt with what the new normal is," said etiquette expert Anna Post, the great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post.
While the technology is new, the rules of etiquette are old-fashioned common sense. Silence your phone in restaurants and don't answer unless there's a very good reason, like a sick kid back home. And if you do answer, excuse yourself from the table. Try to keep your phone off the table, it signals to your companions that you waiting for something better.
As for taking pictures, Post said consider the sort of place you're in -- busy pub or cloistered bistro? -- and who you're with.
"Ask yourself, 'Just because I want to take a photo of my food, is this the right place? Am I with the right people for this to be OK?'<!p><#148> Post said. "The answer can't always be yes."