We may not always be proud of it, but many of us spend our lives glued to our smartphones: texting friends, keeping up with news, making sure our bosses don’t need us right this very second. We’ve become so attached to those alluring little screens, in fact, that we often forget to stop and smell the coffee — or interact with our server — when we dine in restaurants.
Think no one notices when you surreptitiously reach for your phone in those quiet moments after you first sit down, when you’re probably supposed to be looking at your menu, or while you’re waiting for your food to arrive or your friend to come back from the bathroom — or even when you’re in the middle of your meal? Guess what? Someone notices. That person is your server.
“Your Waiter Wants You To Put Down Your Phone,” scolded a recent headline on NPR’s The Salt blog. The post, which quoted a slew of restaurant staffers saying they’d pretty much had it with the meal-ignoring texting masses (along with a handful who weren’t too bothered or noted that smartphones could be useful in some ways, such as making it easier to alert diners when their tables are ready), was inspired by a now-“expired” Craigslist post. The post, purportedly from a New York restaurant owner, claimed that, as NPR put it, “a comparison of surveillance tapes from a decade ago and today showed that people spent so much time with their phones — texting, taking pictures and complaining about Wi-Fi connections — that the average party took nearly an hour longer to finish its meals and pay the bill.”
Yikes! Has the situation really become that extreme? Who knows. But a glance around any restaurant or bar will show that, at the very least, many of us could probably stand to brush up a bit on our restaurant cellphone etiquette.
Here are a few tips:
Turn Your Ringer Off: Switch your phone to silent or vibrate for the duration of your meal. No one wants to hear the clever ring you’ve programmed into your phone while they’re deciding between a salad and fries. Better yet, of course, would be to switch off your phone altogether; an Israeli restaurateur recently offered diners who did so a 50 percent discount. But there are instances (you may need to leave on a dime to drive your pregnant sister to the hospital, say) when this may not be possible.
Apologize in Advance: If you are expecting that emergency call from your due-any-second sister and may need to take it in the middle of your meal, let your dining companions know beforehand. That way, when the call comes in and you cut them off midsentence and rush out, they’ll understand why.
Keep Your Phone Off the Table: Putting your phone in the middle of the table to monitor your calls and texts impresses no one — and distracts everyone. Keep your personal hunk of technology in your pocket or purse while you’re eating.
Don’t Obsess: Don’t keep reaching for your phone to see if the call came in. If you need to check it once or twice during your meal, excuse yourself and do so, then return fully to the conversation. And if you think no one can see you constantly checking and rechecking your texts under the table, um, think again. Everyone totally knows what you’re doing.
Step Away: If you get a voice call you absolutely must take (perhaps another expected dining companion is lost and needs directions), step away from the table — or even out of the restaurant — to take it. Then, when you return, explain and express your apology.
Don’t Geek Out: Resist the urge to live tweet your meal — or to consult the Internet for advice before you order. Do your research before you sit down to eat. And if you must photograph your meal (really, must you?), do so swiftly (no carefully staged beauty shots) and return your phone to its properly stowed position.
Look Up and Look Around: It may feel natural to reach for your phone when a dining companion reaches for his or hers — or leaves the table for a moment — but you might instead leave your phone where it is and focus on your surroundings in the here and now. Look around and take in the restaurant’s decor, the ambiance and the other diners. You can probably go right ahead and stare — most of them will probably be too absorbed in their own smartphones to notice.