Tech Etiquette in Restaurants: A Social Experiment

Cross posted from Dot Complicated

Imagine a five-star restaurant that boasts tasty delicacies plated like mouthwatering works of art, staffed by some of the most servile waiters on earth.

Now imagine me (or look at the picture of me below if imagining isn’t your thing) with a friend, texting and Tweeting away on our iPhones and tablets, disturbing the ambiance of this fancy, expensive restaurant. Yes, for the sake of journalism, a friend and I ventured forth into the world of fine dining to see how far we would have go to get ourselves kicked out of a restaurant*. It was a great excuse to treat ourselves to some delicious meals and have the license to text all we wanted!

cant eat it til you instagram it
Can’t eat it ‘til you Instagram it!

These days, more and more of us are guilty of being that jerk at a restaurant, snapping photos of our food as if documenting it will satiate our hunger. The foodie movement has given rise to a generation of techies self-identifying as gourmands, leading to an obsessive inability to holster our digital devices while dining.

There are applications dedicated to his hobby, such as Forkly, which is essentially a social network that enables people to be rude at restaurants.

But have no fear – fortunately, for those of us afflicted with the (almost) medical need to keep devices close by while dining, there is a way to know if your frenetic tweeting is acceptable or not. After my adventures of intentionally annoying people at restaurants, I drew some conclusions that will save us all the embarrassment of having our cell phones taken away from us.

For those of you who are like me and have forsaken social aptitude for math-related reasons, here is a graph that can help you determine when it’s okay to use your tech devices in restaurants:

tech at table

Thanks to GraphJam for helping me make this graph so I didn’t have to cry on the floor in the fetal position while trying to draw it by hand.

Here are a few examples to show what types of behavior will break that threshold and get you kicked out of a restaurant:

Okay To Do:

  • Instagram/Facebook/Tweeting your meal (in moderation, and discreetly). How else will you give people food FOMO (fear of missing out)?
  • Playing games with the sound off while waiting for your food, because you are a child that needs to be distracted
  • Putting a photo of a hot celeb on your tablet and placing it on the chair opposite you, helping to make your dining experience feel less lonely (but much more sad)

Not Okay To Do:

  • Taking flash photos in mood-lit restaurants, especially at restaurants like Opaque, where you dine in total darkness
  • Skype calls with mom on your tablet, just for kicks!
  • Talking on the phone at the table, annoying your date and waiter who is trying to take your order. If it’s urgent, take it outside!
  • Watching videos on YouTube of your wife giving birth

The bottom line is to use common sense. At really nice restaurants, I would recommend keeping your phone out of sight, even though it is hard to resist becoming one of the rich kids of Instagram. Doing anything that interferes with the experience of another patron is rude, and just because others in the restaurant are doing it doesn’t make it more acceptable. I would encourage diners to enjoy their culinary experiences instead of missing them while trying to preserve them. I think there’s an app for that.

* For the record, I wasn’t able to get kicked out of any restaurants – but I did get a lot of dirty looks from other patrons, and I definitely annoyed the waiters (don’t worry, I tipped well!).

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