Recent news that some restaurants have begun discouraging or outright banning phones from tables elicited two opposing reactions among Takeout writers. We both agreed we prefer to sever digital ties during meals out with friends, but whether it’s a restaurant’s role to make that decision for us was less clear-cut.
I am horrible, horrible about my phone, so I read with interest this CBS headline today: “Some restaurants are banning cell use at their tables.” While some establishments may love the Instagram posts of their attractive meal platings, others think that eating dinner with a screen in hand detracts from the diners’ experience overall.
As Mario Gigliotti, the owner of Italian restaurant Il Triangolo in Queens, told WCBS: “No cell phones on the table, at dinner, everyone talks… and this is my home… and when you come into my home, my restaurant—that’s how we run our restaurant.”
Yes, it’s a little bossy, but I’ll allow it. I see a lot of people on their phones at dinners out, sometimes on dates, and you really have to ask yourself, what’s the point? Sadly, at certain times, I include myself among these horrific ranks. Much of my job involves jumping on news items, so I check Twitter a lot. As a parent, I check messages frequently to make sure no one’s been run over by a bus (or, more likely, forgotten their field trip permission slip). But worst of all: I am addicted to Words With Friends. There, I said it; I finally said it. I maintain that my WWF habit is better than my husband’s Angry Birds thing, because mine is at least social (as John Bender says in The Breakfast Club, “demented and sad, but social”), while improving my spelling/vocabulary. Still, I may have at least a dozen games going on at once and again, to what end? Certainly not anything I should interrupt an evening out for. But that’s why we call them bad habits: It’s not because we like them.
So go ahead, put a basket on the dinner table for me to put my phone in. Or, better yet, let me leave it in my pocket on vibrate, with strict orders from the sitter to only ping me if someone is bleeding profusely or has a fever that tops 102. Then, I can focus on the evening at hand: my husband over the latest Trump rant or triple-word score. I know I’m the lowest form of human for this to even be an issue, but judging from what this CBS article says, unfortunately, I’m not alone.
It does make me sad to see a couple out on a date, each person so engrossed by a phone that the duo is hardly speaking. But unless you’re having a phone conversation that’s so loud it bothers other tables, I don’t see how anyone’s texting or scrolling is a restaurant’s concern.
Is screen addiction kinda gross and probably indicative of our society’s larger social ineptitude? Sure. But there are legitimate reasons to keep your phone visible, even during a meal. Recently, I went out to dinner with a friend who just had a new baby. She kept her phone on the table but mostly ignored it, except to answer one or two texts from her husband about the baby’s nighttime routine. It hardly ruined our dinner; I barely noticed the 20-second breaks she took to reply.
Excessive fiddling with your phone is an example of perhaps poor manners, not a crime so egregious a restaurant should scold you for it. If it diminishes a customer’s “presence” for the meal, well, that seems like the customer’s problem. What’s the alternative? For a restaurant to snatch the phone out of your hand? And what about customers who dine solo, and might want to enjoy a book while eating? Is that off-limits, too?
Look, I don’t enjoy seeing fellow customers lit up by the blue light of their screens while I’m eating, but this hardly seems like a behavior a restaurant needs to police. Diners are paying money for the experience of eating at this business, so it seems to me they should be able to spend that time—no matter how distracted—in the manner of their choosing. Just turn your pinging and buzzing notifications off, please.