You’ve waited on them: faces permanently aglow from their smartphone screens. Arthritic thumbs tapping out another text message or Facebook comment. This guest does not exist only in bars and restaurants. They are everywhere. These little chunks of technology in our hands interfere with the simplest of human interactions, and it only seems to be getting worse.
Any decorum or regard for the experience of dining out is slipping away into our guest’s smartphones. A recent viral Craiglist rant from a Manhattan restaurant claims that smartphones have destroyed the dining experience in their restaurant. A few weeks ago Slate posted an interesting rebuttal, with those interviewed citing the benefits that come from guests posting to social media. With a lot of the controversy surrounding ‘how long it would actually take to take a picture of your food’ there is a large piece missing from this puzzle: what these smartphones really seem to be destroying is our guest’s ability to allow themselves to be waited on.
There is always at least one instance every night (sometimes 10+) that I am completely ignored by a table. You’ve come out to be waited on, and expect service—but it is difficult to provide service if I am unacknowledged. I don’t need a hug or even a ‘hey-how-are-ya’ but it is difficult to get you the cocktail and entrée that you’d like without you telling me. If my mind reading tricks were more honed I’d be running around in a leotard saving the world and stopping crime before it happens.
In full disclosure, I have a smartphone as well. I bury my face in it while sitting at the bar or a table. Guilty as charged. However, if a server or bartender asks me a question I raise my head, look them in the eye, and engage them.
On a nightly basis I have someone at a table that is talking on their phone when they are first seated. I’ll bring them a glass of water so they know their presence is acknowledged and smile. The next time I walk by, they are still on their phone. Not wanting to interrupt, I keep walking. The next time I pass by the table I have a tray full of drinks (for a different table), and they pull the phone from their ear, and wave and shout to me that they are ready to order. Call me old school, but not only is that rude behavior towards me, but cutting whomever it is on the other end of that phone call off so that you can order your food is rude as well.
Those of us in the service industry are expected to be as chipper and upbeat as ever. How obligated are we as servers and bartenders to uphold politeness when we are entirely unacknowledged? After 10 years I’ve got a pretty thick skin, but it is difficult at times to deal with guests that expect me to be Mary Sunshine, yet have no idea if I am male or female, short or tall, and would fail miserably at picking me out of a lineup. I don’t want to cradle you to my bosom, or become your new BFF. What I do want is to be able to give you great service, which believe it or not is a team effort between guest and server.
If I were to walk up to a table, have my phone buzz, and stop taking your order to return a text it would be thought of as rude, wouldn’t it? I try not to waste my customers time. If your smart phone is of the utmost importance then stay home and use it to order your food. If you are out to eat, and have a dining experience where you are waited on, then give your server (and yourself) the benefit of being able to wait on you.
End note: This current discussion is something I believe to be incredibly important, because it brings up a multitude of issues surrounding the dining experience in the smartphone age. These issues are only being skimmed at the surface. There are people who turn their phone all the way up to listen to a song or YouTube clip, and they do this in the middle of a crowded restaurant that is providing music already. People who have conversations on speakerphone in the middle of a busy restaurant (90% of the conversation usually consists of “I CAN’T HEAR YOU” and “WHAT?” being screamed by both sides). And then there is that person who just talks on their phone, wildly, and loudly. Most people know not to do that in a movie theater because you don’t want to interrupt a movie, but it’s time to evolve. People who do that in restaurants are just as annoying: and no matter what smartphone you have you will always and forever look like this guy (1:57 specifically).