Cupcake Photos Too Hot For Flickr

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.

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  1. I am said colleague and can attest to the facts stated above. For further clarification, I am author of the employee's description of "haughty" and the "we" that paid for the cookies was actually "me."

  2. so competitors can't just walk into star provisions to steal their ideas? sheesh. i've always been kinda scared of that place – sounds high and mighty. this story just confirmed that.

  3. In my opinion, Star Provisions does not have the best customer service. Every time I eat there, the line is long and it takes forever to get my food…the food is also overpriced and not that tasty. The last time I went there the line was so long and I got so sick of the pretentiousness that I simply left. I can tell you a bit about taking pictures in their store. I art directed 2 photo shoots at Star Provisions last year. There is a process to go through with their PR contact which is understandable (for media) if you have tons of equipment and will be there for a half day. It seems crazy that this woman would not let you take pictures. Its only a camera phone and you are a customer. It is silly that she even brought up scheduling a photo shoot.Their cupcakes are beautiful and they have a great selection of cupcake supplies, but I don't think it deserves to be tied to their name.

  4. We talked about this a bit ago. This is alot like 'don't take a picture of me'. Some people just have issues with 'photos'. They like rules about this kind of stuff. Whether legal or psychological – they just have issues. Of course, its easier these days to do this with camera phones, etc…all that being said, do you like the food? Then eat there. It isn't an issue with their service of the food, or the food…and it is just somebody curt on a peripheral issue….then maybe it is just something you live with? Just a thought? Because you aren't going in there to take pictures….you are going in there because you like the food.

  5. But you could have bought the food and then posted photos pretty easily, so it doesn't really make sense. Not to mention that if you'd taken a photo of cupcakes, I'd have posted them on <a href="">my cupcake blog.</a> I get this attitude when it comes to photographing people but this seems pretty over the top.

  6. i went to a candy store and got really really mad and snooty when i tried to take a photo of pretty candy. i sure as heck won't go back there because i'd rather support cool/fun/good businesses.

  7. Rob: The big deal to me is that it's virtually unenforceable anyway, and doesn't provide them any real protection from competitors stealing their ideas. It's not hard to walk into a shop and memorize their presentation, or write it down in a notebook, or sketch it. Besides, what incredible trade secrets are they protecting here? "Make pretty and tasty food and sell it in a fancy store?" "Chocolate frosting goes well with yellow cake?"On the flip side, at some point they will need to grow their customer base, and before that rainy day comes they ought to be grateful for any fan who would want to bother to take a picture of their food and promote it online.For me, and for lots of other people I know, using a cameraphone has become a regular part of shopping. I might take a picture to save an idea for later or to remember what I saw, or I might send a picture to a friend to recommend something I've seen. You say that normally people aren't taking pictures of the food you buy. But are you sure? I'm not talking cameras here, I'm talking cameraphones. I searched Flickr for food and got "
    We found 1,247,721 photos matching food." At least some of those are going to be from stores and restaurants, and that's not even a very likely tag for someone snapping photos of specific food items. The point is, taking a quick disposable picture of something you like has become a way people express their appreciation of something and their identity. Maybe Star doesn't "get it" yet on that level. I hope that they will, because I like their food and aesthetic otherwise.This stuff matters. For me I'll find and support a place that understands what it means to run a customer-driven business. Brands are a negotiation. A company is foolish to think they can completely control the imagery out in the world that represents them. And they can't afford to turn away passion for their products.I wanted to send this blog entry to the company to get their side of the story, by the way, but the only email address on the site was for "media inquiries" and goes to their PR firm. I'm not writing as media here, I'm just a regular customer. Feel free to pass it along the people you know there, if you think they might be interested in being part of the discussion.

  8. I hear ya. Still, the first couple of paragraphs of your comment sort of fall under, "not your problem." I mean, you think that it's unenforcable and unhelpful to their promotion, and anyway, doesn't do any good. They disagree. If the goal is to help them with their business and they say they don't need your help, then why not shrug and say ok, see ya next week?

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