Just a few decades ago, dining out was a very different affair. You sat down at the table, you ordered, and for the next hour, all you had to do was chew, make polite conversation and possibly sip on an alcoholic beverage. Today, thanks to the ubiquity of mobile phones, things are more complicated: between answering calls, texting, checking-in and posting on social media, conversation and sometimes even food are taking a backseat.
“Use Your Phone: Do More Stupid Things Faster, And Share Them With the World”
If you doubt that at all, check out this recent rant that a New York restaurant posted on Craigslist about two weeks ago. Tired of reviewers complaining about the slow service and long waits for tables, the restaurant reviewed surveillance tapes from 2004 to see what exactly had changed since their heydays. Their findings? Customers first ask about the WiFi password before food, spend an inordinate amount of time using their phones instead of reading the menu, and take 21 minutes (compared with 8 in 2004) deciding what they want to eat. Then, they take photos of the food, of each other, check in on social media, and eventually send the cold food back to the kitchen for re-heating. The average dining experience lengthened from 1:05 minutes in 2004 to 1:55 minutes in 2014, a whopping fifty minutes of time almost entirely consumed by the mobile phone!
The New Rude: Vacation Slideshows and Leaving Voicemails
Clearly, times are changing and the rules of etiquette are shifting too, in an attempt to accommodate faster and busier lifestyles and to negotiate a modicum of politeness in a digitally-bent world. A tongue-in cheek WSJ article earlier this year outlined 21 rules for checking your phone during meals, including hilarious prescriptions like: “Photographs of babies or weddings may be shown on a phone for three (3) minutes. If you do not have a baby, or have not recently attended a wedding, you may take out your phone and Tinder for ninety (90) seconds.”
The New York Times is equally grappling with the new etiquette: tech columnist Nick Bilton wrote a column last year in which he called people who left voice messages instead of texting, “rude”. His own father was one of the culprits. That particular column elicited over 500 heated comments – roughly fifty times as many as the average Bilton piece, and generated stories and commentary from everyone under the sun, including The Atlantic Wire and The Globe and Mail. Bilton eventually wrote a second column answering to his readers’ criticisms, but also re-stating his position on the issue.
The New Polite = The Old Polite + WiFi
In the end, like everything else, mobile phones are what you make of them. Whether you’re a hard-core user or not, should you ever find yourself in a murky mobile etiquette situation, the Emily Post Institute has everything you need to know on mobile manners. Among their wisest advice: “Take a second to play out the anticipated response chain before you initiate communication to avoid confusion and upsetting your interlocutors.”
Now put your phone down and get back to dinner!