Restaurant 101: The Cell Phone Conundrum

The LA Times food section today featured a nice little piece on one new variable in dining rooms across the city, the potential hurdles that the presence of cell phones creates. A couple of additional things to consider:

For a restaurant, the cell phone truly is a hurdle to great service. It not only makes the table a minefield for potentially disastrous spills, but the cell phone in the restaurant is the culprit for more mis-orders than I can count.

I think it is some sort of psychological blip where a person talking on a cell phone makes up her mind about something on the menu, is having a conversation at the same time, has visual contact with the waitstaff, and somehow conflates all of these things together to a create a memory of having actually ordered a dish, or told the server that she is allergic to onions, when this information in fact never made it to our ears in the dining room.

It sounds impossibly bizarre, I know, but this happens all the time.

Business dinners aside, I would advise any diner to be wary of dining with anyone who has their phone out on the table.

They are planning not to pay attention to you.

Call me an armchair psychologist, but I’ve seen this in many dining rooms. The dates who suddenly have an “emergency phone call from their roommates,” or the “business email they absolutely have to answer right now.” The phone is on the table because it is their escape plan, or to illustrate how much more important they are than you.

The term “Reciprocell” coined by John Purcell and Katie Sticksell is a response to this phenomena. If someone at your table pulls out a phone and you fail to follow suit, you are ceding the win and letting them be comfortable in the knowledge that they are more important than you are.

If we’re honest, most of us will admit that our phones are security blankets. While waiting for a friend at a bar, my phone saves me from looking lonesome, but it also shields me from the possibility that I might interact with someone new. What if I kept the phone in my pocket and instead had a conversation with the bartender about that new whiskey he’s pouring? Or suppose took in the atmosphere that the owners, designers, and architect put so much work into creating?

It sounds scary, I know, but just might be worth it.


  1. I stumbled upon this online a few weeks ago. Seems brilliant, especially while out with friends.

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