I was recently greeting people at one of my restaurant spaces when a young woman walked into the shared communal space with her head down, her smart phone guiding her. She was more fixated on the small celluloid device in her hand than the environment around her.
“Hi! How are you today?” I asked her.
No reaction. She continued to study her phone.
“May we help you?” I tried again.
I leaned forward to try and make eye contact with her, careful not to encroach on personal territory. But she didn’t budge. The phone totally owned her.
Eventually she looked up, finally willing to acknowledge the person standing in front of her.
“It’s O.K.,” I reassured her, “I’m a human being. You can talk to me.”
She was not the first and not the second person to walk into a restaurant and ignore all signs of life around her. Ignoring the world has, sadly, become acceptable thanks to the prominence of our mobile devices. In fact, the woman standing in front of me transfixed by her cell phone wasn’t even trying to insult me, which only made things more confusing for both parties.
In fact, without realizing it, she was phubbing me, or “phone snubbing” me. And the truth is, if you’ve worked in the service industry over the past 10 years, chances are you have witnessed a sustained incline of phubbing.
I know this thanks to a habit of mine: While working service, I take inventory of how many people are on their cell phones throughout their meals. The last time I indulged my little habit, of the 30 people seated at other tables, more than 75 percent were glued to their phones. What’s even worse is, many of them were dining with companions – business colleagues, friends, and couples. These poor souls were more invested in their phones than the people they were sharing their dining experience with.
And it is an experience. I don’t care what anyone else says. Be it breakfast, lunch, or dinner, there’s no such thing as a throwaway when it comes to dining out; it’s a privilege and should be treated as such. Any time someone else is preparing a meal for you, the engagement is special.
Here are some helpful guidelines to keep in mind while entering a restaurant where someone will be serving you.
Put it Away
When you enter a restaurant or environment where someone is waiting to greet you, put your phone away or holster it to your side. Better yet, pretend it’s a bar of soap. What are you doing with a bar of soap in a restaurant? Didn’t you shower or bathe yourself before leaving your home? Put your soap phone away before they throw you in the loony bin!
Do Not Approach the Host While on Your Phone
This should go without saying, but having a conversation on your phone while walking up to the host stand is horribly fucking awkward. Not for you, obviously, because you’re oblivious to the laws of common decency if someone has to tell you this, but for the person trying to help you. You can’t be helped in that moment, and no matter what the host attempts to ascertain from your phone conversation, they can’t tell if you’re on the phone with someone who might be joining you, how many people are in your party, if you have a reservation, or if there in fact is someone else on the other line or you’re just trying to impress everyone.
Put the Thing on Silent, FFS
When I’m dining in public, my phone is always on silent or vibrate. I’m amazed how some people still let the phone ring – and not just a quiet ring, but an unabated beeping loud enough to halt conversation at nearby tables. Turn the phone on silent and nearby diners won’t be sending any eye daggers your way.
Do. Not. Take. A. Call. While. Ordering.
I can’t believe that I have to say this one, but there you have it. Do not take a call while ordering from your server. Finish ordering.
An industry friend relayed this amazing story. A server was in the middle of taking an order from a diner whose phone started to ring. Without so much as an “Excuse me,” the diner interrupted himself mid-order and reached into his pocket to answer his phone. Not surprisingly, the server was upset by this act and approached his boss, the owner of the restaurant, to relay what had happened. The owner had an idea. He had the server return to the table when the guest was off his phone, and when the diner began ordering again, the owner called the server on his cell phone, and the server took the phone call in the middle of the guest’s order. Karma is a ghost pepper in a tub of movie popcorn, isn’t it?
Do Not Ask for a Charger
If you’re one of those people who don’t charge your phone before you leave the house, don’t expect the restaurant to have power waiting for you. Additionally, don’t respond with attitude if the business doesn’t have available phone chargers waiting for you. It’s not their fault or responsibility.
Protect Your Own Property
I actually care about your cell phone. I don’t want to get it wet or dropped in a bottle of water or a bowl of mac and cheese. That said, please do not leave your phone on the table. We’re trying to place beverages, silverware, plates, and lots of food on your table. We’re trying to provide service. Please help us.
Also, it doesn’t help when you make no concerted effort to grab the phone and free up space when our hands and arms are full. We’re just standing there. Over you. Balancing. Waiting for your friend or dining companion to notice.
Do Not Take Calls in the Bathroom
It’s O.K. to take your cell phone into the bathroom. However, you should never take calls in the bathroom. Again, I can’t believe I have to say this, but I do. You have no idea how many people take calls in the bathroom. In a restaurant. Which probably has only one or two restrooms available to everyone dining there. I mean, come on. Are you serious? GTFO.
Do Not Linger on Your Phone
Last but not least: If the meal is finished, the check has been paid, the drinks quaffed, and there is only water left on the table, it’s probably time to leave. Most restaurants are only doing one or two dinner turns, so if you take a look around the room and see most of the other tables are occupied, there’s probably a wait.
One of the newest forms of social abuse I’ve observed is how people eat and drink together, and, post-payment, decide to grab their phone, lean back in their chair, and turn off whatever conversation was taking place with their dining guests and camp.
Trust me, the restaurant appreciates your business. What they do not appreciate is watching you sit there for 15 minutes only moving your thumb up and down, negating your environment. If you’ve paid the bill and there’s a wait, you should be thinking of others.
The long and the short of it is, treat the dining experience with the respect it deserves.