Dining Etiquette in a Digital Age

Restaurants can get creative in their handling of digital etiquette, including placing a phone booth in the space for guests to make a quiet call.
Restaurants can get creative in their handling of digital etiquette, including placing a phone booth in the space for guests to make a quiet call. thinkstock

Whether restaurants shy away from or embrace the plugged-in generation, finding a way to stay ahead of the technological curve remains a crucial task for operators.

In this advanced digital age, rules of etiquette still apply in the restaurant setting, even if they do seem to change as quickly as the latest smartphone craze.

Exactly what those codes of etiquette are varies from establishment to establishment, however. Some restaurateurs care very much that their patrons appear to have abandoned polite dinner conversation altogether in favor of loudly talking into their cellphones.

For instance, at the Green Russell in Denver, Colorado, owner and designer Jacqueline Bonanno wanted a no-cellphone policy from the get-go. When she and beverage director Adam Hodak were in the process of outfitting this self-proclaimed “chef-driven cocktail joint,” they visited a secondhand restaurant store and found an old phone booth. “We thought it was perfect for the vibe we were going for,” Bonanno says. “When Green Russell first opened, whenever we saw someone using their phone we would kindly ask them to use our phone booth. Now, a couple years later, people really appreciate the no-phone policy. They understand that Green Russell is a place to grab some cocktails and enjoy the company of others. For the most part, people don’t use their cellphone or it’s discreet enough where we don’t ask them to use the phone booth.”

Likewise, Griz Dwight of GrizForm Design Architects installed a phone booth in the Founding Farmers restaurant in Tysons, Virginia. This functional design element allows guests to make phone calls in private, without disturbing those around them.

Frequenters of full-service restaurants, including the syndicated advice columnist Amy Alkon, author of Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck, fully approve of this addition to a restaurant’s layout. She notes that “the atmosphere is part of the dining experience, and no patron has a right to change that for other patrons.” In her opinion, those “fine-dining atmosphere-eaters” include “glowing screens, ringing phones, and flash photos.”

Indeed, she makes a noteworthy point when she says that “few people go to fine restaurants just for the food. The atmosphere is an essential part of the experience, with the dimmed lights, elegant floral arrangements, and waiters speaking in hushed tones instead of hollering across the place, diner-style, ‘Yo, put a rush on that partridge confit!’”

She continues, “In a dimly lit restaurant, brightly lit phone screens, iPads, and laptop screens steal attention away from guests’ companions and meal. Should you be tempted to send, oh, maybe just 26 or 30 emails, consider that there’s probably a reason restaurants advertise ‘fine dining’ instead of ‘fine data entry.’ … It also seems ill-advised to annoy other patrons around you who not only have been drinking but may just have been given sharpened steak knives.”

Restricting cell usage is one reason why restaurants all over the world, from the Corner Cafe in Annapolis, Maryland, to Svarta Kaffid in Reykjavik, Iceland, are strategically placing signage with messages like “We do not have Wi-Fi. Talk to each other; pretend it’s 1995.”

Bucato in Culver City, California, was even more emphatic on its written materials: “It is our intention that you enjoy your time with us, savoring both your meal and your company. We kindly ask that you refrain from using your mobile device within the dining area. All photography within Bucato is politely discouraged. Thank you.” Although Bucato served its last meal in September, the closure was more likely due to the loss of the restaurant’s original chef, Evan Funke, than its policy on electronic devices.



I had written a blog post on this very issue: https://foodmamablog.wordpress.com/2016/01/13/dining-table-disruptions/
It seems that there isn't a way we can curb the use of technology individually as that is a single person's own right and certainly least the way people use tech at a restaurant.
I am an advocate of technology for technology sake. As far as I am a fine diner and a fast casual one, I often argue "Is it technology that is the real disturbance at a restaurant or the individual using it?"


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