I have only been to Star Provisions a few times, but consider myself a big fan of their baked goods. Today at lunch I went with a colleague from work to have some sandwiches and enjoy some dessert. The two likely delicious cookies I bought are still sitting, uneaten, within their beautiful packaging. Here's why:
As we picked out the cookies we wanted to buy, I took out my cameraphone and snapped some pictures of the choices. I do this all of the time, and some of my most popular photos on Flickr are of food items. At Star, they all looked so tasty, and nicely finished, that I wanted to snap some photos and upload them to Flickr to brag about how nice they are. I do this because I like food, I like sharing the food I like with my friends, and it's fun to keep a diary of the best foods you eat.
As I took some cameraphone photos, the woman behind the counter stopped me and asked me accusingly what I was doing. I told her I was taking pictures to put in my Flickr account and in my personal blog. She told me not to, and that they are very strict about allowing permissions for photos there. She said people ask them to set up photo shoots if they want permission to take pictures. I explained that I think their food is delicious and I'm a huge fan. I just want to promote their establishment in my own way, and show off how great their food is. She insisted that I couldn't take pictures and that I should instead buy and eat their food. Some of the reasons she gave were fear that competitors would come in and steal their ideas, or that they wouldn't be able to control the quality of the photos.I explained that I'm just a fan and want to document my delicious meal, but she insisted that I shouldn't take pictures, and in my opinion, (and to use someone else's word) was quite haughty about it.
I told her she made me feel weird about wanting to like their store. She sort of apologized, but I don't feel like she really understood what I meant or took me seriously. I offered her the option — that I could either upload the photos I took to Flickr, or write about how she wouldn't let me take photos. She didn't like either option and just said I should write about how much I like their store. I was pretty frustrated but I did my best to explain why it's probably not the best way to win loyal customers, and that if this is their policy it's likely I won't return. By the end of the conversation, she had changed her tune a little, from "don't take any photos" to "photos are fine as long as you ask for permission first", and I understand being moved along by the conversation but she wouldn't accomodate me and my intentions within that. I still felt like her message was "don't put those photos online, and don't write about this." If she felt otherwise, she didn't go out of her way to make me know that. So I walked out (yes, we did pay for the cookies).
Right now I'm not sure if I'll ever return, and not sure if I should publish the photos either. Why give them that free publicity they don't seem to think they want or need?
I want to know if this really is the official policy of Star Provisions, that any and all in-store photography including cameraphone, lomograph, or pinhole camera, requires express consent from the management. And if it is, is the conversation that I had with this employee today the kind of experience I should expect to have there? If there's an honest mistake or a heat of the moment thing going on, I totally understand and would be happy to hear the other side of the story. But if I have to ask for permission to take a goofy photo of their food items out of love for the product, there are plenty of other places I can take my business. I understand trying to protect against the competition, but not at the expense of the weird, museum-like environment that might create.