A seat for cell phones at the table

By Sadie Williams
DSC_0106-copySome rules are set in stone, or at least, they used to be. Using a phone at the dinner table used to be taboo. If the sharp trill of the phone interrupted conversation at the table, most families let it ring, forsaking whatever telemarketer or relative was calling for the peaceful moments that the dinner table offered. However, cell phones are quickly changing the no phone dinner culture. It’s especially apparent in restaurants, where almost everyone can be seen checking their phone at some point during the dining experience.
Although some restaurants, like Single Pebble in Burlington, have begun to discourage the use of cell phones and laptops in their dining areas, local establishments seem to be primarily cell phone and technology friendly. Preferences differ among institutions, so when dining out, it’s worth checking signage, menus, or just ask a waiter about the restaurant’s policy.
Barkeaters doesn’t have a set policy on cell phones. Kaila Merrill, a server, commented that she used to see more cell phone usage when she worked in New York City. “We have an older clientele,” Merrill said, pointing to the fact that older generations tend not to rely on their phones in the same way as younger generations. As for WiFi, the restaurant has it, but they don’t give out their password to just anyone. Perhaps a few loyal customers, or people in “desperate” need of an internet connection, but for the most part they prefer that people stay off their computers.
Pauline’s Café doesn’t have a set policy either. There used to be a note on the menu discouraging the use of phones, but it has been edited out over time. Chef and owner David Hoene says, “We don’t encourage cell phone use. But we don’t normally have a problem, either. I don’t mind asking a customer to step outside to finish their conversation if necessary.” It’s a small space, so naturally phone conversations would be quite intrusive. The policy doesn’t generally apply to texting, however, as it doesn’t have the same effect on other customers.
In the renovated interior of Chef Leu’s on Route 7, customers are free to use their cell phones, and the internet, as they wish. Owner Mei Wang quite happily attested to the fact that there is no internet password, a convenience both for busy servers and internet inclined customers alike.
Marco’s Pizza equally encourages the use of technology in their dining area. Manager Ryan McGowan stated that “customers come in, grab a slice, and sit down to use their computers.  It’s really nice.”
It makes sense that restaurants tend to cater to their customer’s needs, especially in a small town like Charlotte, Hinesburg, or Shelburne. Unless there’s a 20-foot line out the door every night, it’s difficult to tell customers what they can and can’t do.
But should patrons accept the invitation to use their cell phones and computers while dining?  The lines are blurry. This reporter is of the opinion that while taking calls at the dinner table is completely unacceptable, it’s not so bad to snap a quick photo, or briefly check a work email.  The fact of the matter is that we live in a technology dependent world, and there is no room for luddites at the table. Restaurants benefit from tagged photos that are shared on Yelp, Facebook, and other social media sites. Emails sometimes do need to be read. If the post lunch meeting has been moved to 3pm, that’s pertinent information.
However, there’s a difference between a brief phone check, or a quickly snapped photo, and the mildly offensive face-in-phone posturing so prevalent in the dimly lit corners of restaurants.
Sharing food provides an opportunity to connect in an emotionally and socially physical manner.  Whether you’re sitting down for a quick slice or embarking on a three course extravaganza, engage in conversation. It may be trivial, or it may be profound, but it always takes the cake.