Why you should care
Because when you’re dining out, you’ll want to put your best foot forward — and your cellphone away.
You’re enjoying a meal with a friend at a posh restaurant, when the guy at the next table starts yakking away on his phone about project deadlines. You’re filled with prickly rage, because he’s being rude and restaurants shouldn’t allow such ill-mannered behavior. Or should they? You might be surprised to learn that:
Nearly 40 percent of respondents to a Pew Research Center survey said it’s generally OK for others to use cellphones at restaurants.
Indeed, some fine dining establishments are relaxing the rules on digital devices after years of frowning upon their usage at the dinner table as poor etiquette. The iconic Boston steakhouse Grill 23, for example, used to discourage taking a phone call at the table, but now guests are free to call or text, or even Instagram their main courses. Where management draws the line: calls on speakerphone. Yes, dialing into a dinner meeting actually happens sometimes.
Why the sea change? In a day when restaurants are fighting an uphill battle to maintain a reputation as a spot for fine dining while continuing to keep patrons happy, establishments have opted to “evolve” to meet customer preferences, says Chris Himmel, executive vice president of business development for the Himmel Hospitality Group. “Today’s culinary scene is a much more casual experience,” he says. “We’ve come to accept and embrace that, while working to maintain our high standards.” (Case in point: In the 1980s, a jacket and tie was required to dine at Grill 23; today, it simply has a “no jeans” policy.)
Still, even though most restaurants allow it, using a cellphone at dinner is rude, notes etiquette expert Thomas P. Farley. “Meeting face to face today requires some real scheduling and effort,” he says, so your focus should be on that person who chose to spend his or her time with you. And it’s not just your dinner companion’s time that’s being wasted by your phone fixation. Farley says technology’s unwelcome appearance at the dinner table also contributes to restaurant delays: Guests often check their cellphones before they even glance at the menu, or they take photos of their food before eating it. When your wait time for a table seems surprisingly long? It might just be thanks to those diners busily Instagramming or monitoring their Facebook “likes.” Farley’s advice: A cellphone should never be on a table, regardless whether it’s faceup or facedown.
The only appropriate time to get your phone out? When it’s time to split the bill. Even Farley agrees that cellphones can be the saving grace to keep transactions “clean and simple” and to avoid the awkwardness of talking money. Apps like Billr, Divvy and Splitwise allow users to divide costs and, in some cases, photograph the receipt or text the amount owed to others. And of course, if you’ve been drinking, use your phone to hail an Uber or Lyft to take you home.
When it comes to fine dining, other demonstrations of good manners have not gone out of style: eating with the right fork, chewing with your mouth closed, refraining from distasteful jokes or talking about politics. But when it comes to technology, it’s best to leave it in your pocket. And maybe wear a jacket. After all, who doesn’t appreciate a well-mannered — and well-dressed — dinner date?