Back in July, a restaurant owner posted a rant to Craigslist claiming that by comparing surveillance camera footage from 2004 and 2014, he discovered that the use of cell phones can slow down service by almost an hour, because distracted diners take longer to order, eat, and pay.
Comparing today's scenario to the more “old-fashioned,” phone-free dining experience — receiving a menu, reviewing it, placing your order, eating your meal, paying, and leaving — it’s easy to see why this particular restaurant owner was driven into a rage. Not only did the 2004 meals (which didn’t involve phones) average 1:05, they just seemed to flow better, with fewer distractions from the food and the company.
The Craigslist poster's worst-case scenario: Customers turn the waiter away multiple times because they’re too distracted by their phones to even look at the menu, and when the food arrives they spend several minutes taking photos of the food (and each other with the food). They then send their food back to the kitchen for reheating because the food got cold during their photo-taking. After they’re done eating, they go right back to their phones, taking a while to request the check and even longer to pay it, and then asking the waiter to take a few group photos before finally leaving, bumping into others on the way out because they’re texting while walking. Average meal time? 1 hour, 55 minutes.
This was one restaurateur's experience. But how do other restaurateurs and chefs really feel about cell phone use in restaurants? We reached out to restaurant professionals from all across the country, and their opinions may surprise you.
The chefs who chimed in hail from just about every style of restaurant, from casual to high-end, and represent a wide cross-section of cuisines: Martha Wiggins (Sylvain, New Orleans), Judy Joo (the forthcoming Jinjuu, London), Ali Loukzada, (Café Serai at the Rubin Museum, New York), Jason Weiner (Almond NYC and L&W Oyster Co., New York), Cynthia Kallile (The Meatloaf Bakery, Chicago), Chris Marchino (Spiaggia/Cafe Spiaggia, Chicago), Eric Miller (Bay Kitchen Bar, East Hampton), Sean Olnowich (Bounce Sporting Club, New York), and Joe DiMaio (Stars Rooftop & Grill Room, Charleston). TV personality Nadia G and dining app entrepreneur Joshua Stern also shared their opinions.
So read on to learn about how these chefs and industry professionals feel about cell phone use in restaurants — and the next time you’re dining out, try to pay attention to how much you use yours.
Chef Martha Wiggins, Sylvain, New Orleans
“I am always flattered when someone takes a photo of a dish I've prepared before they eat it. However, one is enough; then let’s eat while it's still hot. It always pains me to see two or three people at a table, all with their eyes on their smartphone, not talking, and it seems to defeat the purpose of going out and being in other people's company and enjoying the food in front of you.
“I do enjoy perusing the news or weather when dining alone, or Facebook while I have some time to myself. I try to refrain from texting or taking calls while out to eat, though, and make an effort to take care of that stuff beforehand. However, sometimes duty calls and you have to make yourself available because of work or family. Occasionally I am guilty of placing a cheese order that has to be in by 6 p.m. or I won't have cheese for the week, or texting my seafood guy because my sous-chef just called and said they sent tuna instead pf redfish, or answering a call from my dad real quick to say, ‘Yeah, I'm doing fine,’ and I'll call him later. In the company of close friends, who are the only people I will dine out with, this informality is understood, but then I go about having a great time, eating and drinking and laughing with friends and enjoying the moment.”
Judy Joo, owner of Jinjuu (opening in London in early 2015) and host of Korean Food Made Simple on Cooking Channel
“Anything that distracts and interferes with the overall ambiance of the restaurant and disturbs other guests is a faux pas. Talking loudly on the phone is always annoying. Taking pictures of the food is fine, but no flash photography, please. Texting doesn't really bother me, but it is a bit rude to your guests who are there to interact with you and not watch you focus on your phone.”