Gordon Ramsay was never a fan of cell phones in his dining rooms. He even went so far as to ban their use in his three Michelin-starred restaurant, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, in 2006. But now, The Daily Mail reports that Ramsay’s softened up on the issue—a shift that the entire restaurant industry seems to be experiencing at once.
“A lot of restaurateurs and chefs just hate the idea of phones in restaurants today and I think it’s the best thing that’s ever happened,” Ramsay said at a recent promotional event. “Everyone’s a critic, so wherever you are in the world you get that instant feedback.”
Is Ramsay’s 180 a reasonable reaction to modern technology? Is a room full of smartphones more advantageous to restaurants than cell phones used to be?
I will wholeheartedly admit that I like to take pictures of my food, whether it’s something nice I made for myself at home or a meal served to me at a restaurant (doesn’t matter whether it’s a casual or fancy spot). Eventually we all (hopefully) learned the proper etiquette: be discreet, be quick, and snap as few pics as humanly possible. Cell phone cameras have come a long way since the dawn of the Instagram era, and I no longer have to worry about a flash or a fake shutter sound bothering the entire dining room.
In 2022, most people know how to behave while on their phones anyway, compared to the lawless days of 2006. Most ringers are set to vibrate or are silenced altogether. And while you can handle most communication by text, if you need to take a phone call, stepping outside or into a secluded area of a restaurant is a no-brainer. It’s been years since I’ve seen someone take a loud mid-meal phone call while seated at a restaurant table. That’s probably why more restaurants aren’t known to take Ramsay-esque measures and ban phones from the dining room.
It’s not only the issue of “instant feedback” that Ramsay mentioned; the social media era means that restaurants are enjoying a lot more free publicity when diners have easy access to their phones and the internet while dining. I know that when I’m on the fence about getting up off my ass to patronize a local business, seeing a tantalizing photo of the food on a friend’s Instagram can be exactly the persuasion I need.
As someone who used to work in an open kitchen, I can attest to how nice it was to see people in the dining room take photos of their food. Whenever photos of my handmade pizzas ended up on social media, almost everyone had nice things to say, and any critiques were ones that I always considered genuinely as honest feedback.
Even fine dining restaurants these days are pretty relaxed toward the use of phones during a meal. In fact, the few Michelin-starred places I have visited encouraged patrons to take pictures, and the service was always similarly easygoing. The posture of fine dining has changed with the times, and cell phone usage is just part of the territory—as long as you’re not an asshole about it.
If restaurants of all types were gradually becoming more comfortable with cell phones, the pandemic has made them indispensable: QR code menus, something many restaurants adopted to curb the spread of COVID-19, are the new normal. They allow you to order off the menu without having to be too close to restaurant staff members, who were often some of the first to get sick, due to the high volume of people they serve per day.
So, Ramsay’s thinking has had good reason to evolve on the issue. Diners know not to be jerks (mostly), restaurants get more attention for their stellar food (ideally), QR codes give people space (mostly), and you get to learn about cool places you might not ordinarily have known about (always). Just be sure never to be using the phone when you’re supposed to be speaking with your server—they deserve your full attention. And if you’re an aspiring influencer, just play by the unspoken rules and pay for your own damn food.