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Jun 20, 2009 10:53 AM

Servers on Cell Phones?

I frequent a local, small restaurant and have for over 20 years. Prices are reasonable, food is very good, and service has always been solid.

The last time I went, the server was walking by the table talking on a cell phone. He said, "Hold a sec," and asked if we were ready to order. OK. We gave him the orders. Before he even took a step from the table, he told his cell phone buddy, "OK. Back . . ."

We didn't get drink refills with spicy food, because our server and a couple of others were sitting at the bar area chatting on cell phones.

I briefly considered mentioning it to the manager, but he, too, was on his cell phone when we went to the register to pay. He told his friend to wait a minute and then rang us up and said he hoped we enjoyed the meal.

Perhaps I am getting old, but, as a patron in any restaurant, I turn off my cell phone and check messages later. I give my friends, guests, and servers my full attention. After all, it's only an hour out of the day. Calls really can wait (although I know there would be a few exceptions - but not many).

This is the only time I've had this experience in any restaurant, so I was wondering if I just hit the odd one where it apparently is fine to chat on the cell phone while interacting with diners.

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  1. I'm a restaurant professional. It's the height of rudeness for a server to be using a cell phone in the public areas of a restaurant. Period.

    I'm also not too happy with the people who arrive at our restaurant to pick up take-out and transact their business *while on the phone.*

    1. I'm of the school of thought that it is unacceptable to chat on the cell phone while you interact w/ anyone.
      And maybe you are getting old but being offended by this behavior is not a reflection of it. You'll need more proof.

      1. I'm with's rude in ANY situation. It's long been a peeve of mine when anyone in the service industry (including supermarket clerks etc), continues talking to another party either by phone or in person, as if you simply weren't there, while they are serving you. I've checked entire cartloads of groceries through without the clerk saying one word to me, but at the same time gabbing away to the next person over. Have also had it happen in restaurants.

        I don't expect servers to sit around with glum looks on their faces and never speak to anyone else, but to give an example just last year, when my elderly mother fell from an unlighted booth step in a restaurant, and was barely noticed because all the staff were over by the bar, engrossed in other conversation. The brief notice she did get, was quickly followed by them returning to their perches. Sure left a bad impression with me, and I wouldn't go back.

        Anyway, back on topic, yes, height of rudeness. I'd probably follow through with an e-mail or something to the owners. I can't imagine getting away with something like this where I work. The cornerstone of the service industry is human interaction, and people shouldn't be made to feel as they are some unwelcome nuisance or infringement on the server's time.

        1 Reply
        1. re: im_nomad

          I'm glad to hear this is not becoming common or OK at restaurants.

          I was pretty surprised, but I also think it's strange for anyone to be on the cell phone when interacting with someone in person. I've never had a cashier at the gas station or grocery do that, but I see customers pay while chatting. I was brought up to say "hello" and "thanks" and that sort of thing when having an interaction with another person.

          I haven't been inclined to go back to the restaurant. If the manager had not also been on the cell phone too, I would have just made a quick mention of the issue. He's knows I eat there often, never cause any problems (wrong dish - OK - I'll wait - no biggie), and tip well. I can tell that he and the other servers who have been there a while like me.

          There's not an email. It's a small local place. Perhaps I could write a short note and mention how much I have valued the good service in the past and that I hope they will consider a cell phone policy during working hours.

        2. I have also been at the checkout with the cashier talking the whole time on the cell. I have no idea if they make a mistake. I also recall working at a pizza counter and people would come for pick ups or place an order, all the time on their cell. It's very rude and I don't want to stand there waiting for them to give me the time of day.
          Patients in my office take calls throughout their exam, yelling 'I'm in the doctor's office' to everybody who calls. Why not just turn the flipping thing off??

          26 Replies
          1. re: smartie

            I call a patient out of the waiting room in our office, and they hold up a finger, and tell me to wait because they are on the phone. So rude.
            We were in Fl last year, and watched a husband and wife out for dinner. Through out the whole dinner the husband was on the cell phone. What is that important?

            1. re: catrn

              There are those rare cases, but mostly I think the real people standing right there in front of you (me) take top priority, but I did say I was old or old fashioned. So be it. If I ever took or made a cell call while with others, it would be absolutely critical like 911 for an emergency. I like to enjoy my dinner with others and like to talk to the server or the grocery clerk or gas station register worker.

              1. re: catrn

                So the patient is supposed to sit in the waiting room for 10, 20, 30 minutes, but isn't allowed to make a phone call because they might be on the phone when you're ready for them? Five seconds of your time is worth more than half an hour of theirs? I don't think so.

                Once you're face-to-face with somebody, it's rude to make or take a phone call. I don't care if you're a doctor, a patient, a server, a patron, or the President of the United States. The person you're talking to deserves your undivided attention.

                But to expect someone to abstain from all contact with the outside world because you might - MIGHT - be ready to talk to them at any given moment? That's every bit as self-important as persistently interrupting a meal / examination / meeting to take calls.

                1. re: alanbarnes

                  Do you think you can go 10, 20, or 30 minutes without talking on your phone? Notice smartie was speaking of people who talk on their phones in the middle of the exam, not in the waiting room. Honestly, when did we become a society of Pavlovian labratory dogs that have to respond every time the phone rings? What did we all do before the cell phone? We were a lot more thoughtful about the people around us for one. If I had been in the same situation as the OP, I would have called the manager over and demanded better service. If that got me nowhere, I would have made a show about asking for the owner's/corporate headquarter's contact information. That type of behavior, especially in the service industry, is not to be tolerated. Why must people be constantly on the phone? We didn't have any problems staying in "contact with the outside the world" before we had cell phones. Is the world going to come to a screeching halt or your head going to explode because you neither make nor answer a call for an extended period of time? I once saw an episode of Nanny 911 where the mom was more tuned in to her phone than to her own children (hence the need for emergency nanny intervention). The nanny insisted that the mom turn her phone off for an entire 24-hour period and pay attention to her out-of-control kids. The mom acted like a heroin addict going through withdrawal; she was more upset about not being able to use her cell phone than she was about her kids eating out of the dog food bowl (no joke). People, you have become slaves to your cell phones. Liberate yourselves from the bondage of the electronic age; step away from the phone and interact with your fellow human beings while you still remember how to do so.

                  1. re: kchurchill5

                    I don't have a cell phone, would you believe?. So it is possible to survive without one.

                    1. re: Sharuf

                      I didn't have one for the longest time too, then with my work a few years ago I had too. Not by choice. I do like it when I travel and drive sometimes late at night alone. Otherwise when I go out to a restaurant, I hate it when people are on the phones. A client of mine likes to meet at Starbucks and I can't stand the place, the coffee or just about anything. I go there for a nice cup of coffee and can't even hear ourselves talk cuz everyone is on their cells. To me very annoying.

                      But at work as a server, NO way. And yes you can live without a cell phone and I do mostly now.

                    2. re: SDgirl

                      Calm down, already.

                      If you had bothered to read at my post, you'd know that I think it's inexcusable to interrupt an examination or any other face-to-face interaction to take a phone call. And for what it's worth, I go days at a time without talking on the cell.

                      But one of the times I will use it is when I'm sitting around waiting for someone else. If I'm tied up in a doctor's waiting room for half an hour, you'd better believe that I'll get out my phone and review voice mail messages, respond to a few emails, touch base with the kids, and/or talk to my wife about our plans for the evening.

                      Look at the top right of my response; it wasn't directed to smartie, but to catrn. She's a nurse who thinks it's "so rude" for a patient to be on the phone when she calls them in to see the doctor. In my book, it's just as egocentric and presumptuous for medical personnel to expect patients to wait eagerly on the edges of their seats for the moment when they're called in to see the doctor as it is for a patient to take a call in the middle of an exam.

                      1. re: alanbarnes

                        I jut think it's inconsiderate to the other patients waiting to have to listen to the conversations. I was recently waiting at the dentist while another patient was having an incredibly loud conversation with an insurance agent. There was nowhere for me to go while I waited since her conversation was loud enough that there wouldn't have been any improvement if I were to move to another area. I just want to have a peaceful waiting experience, as I am sure the others in the waiting room did as well.

                        1. re: alanbarnes

                          Sorry Alan- I wholeheartedly agree with Queencru - and the nurse above!

                          I think it is incredibly rude especially if you are in the confines of a waiting room - to subject everyone else to your personal conversations!
                          AND it is certainly rude to hold up a finger to someone who has just called your name in a medical waiting room. (because you are on a personal phone call!!)
                          I am simply amazed that anyone would consider this ok behavior.

                          1. re: NellyNel

                            Me too. I am happy that many types of waiting areas have banned cell phones.

                            1. re: NellyNel

                              Replying to both queencru and NellyNel...

                              >>"I jut think it's inconsiderate to the other patients waiting to have to listen to the conversations."<<

                              >>"I think it is incredibly rude especially if you are in the confines of a waiting room - to subject everyone else to your personal conversations!"<<

                              Um, no. When a couple comes in together, or an adult child drives an elderly parent to an appointment, or two friends bump into each other in the waiting room, are they supposed to sit mute until they cross the threshold on their way out? Not a chance. It is perfectly normal and acceptable for them to chat until the doctor is ready to see them.

                              It is rude to subject other people to a loud or obnoxious conversation. But that's true in any public place, be it a restaurant, a doctor's office, or the train. And it's true whether the person you're talking to is in the chair next to you or on the other side of the country.

                              The problem isn't cell phones, it's lack of consideration. And in my experience, somebody who's rude while on the phone is likely to be rude while off the phone. Maybe technology has given them more opportunities to be rude, but banning the technology is a silly and ineffective way to try to address this problem.

                              1. re: alanbarnes

                                I agree with you, Alan. I understand that some appointments take longer than others so there might be a wait in the doctor's office waiting room. However, I've made an effort to be on time. If the doctor is not also on time, I shouldn't need to twiddle my thumbs silently waiting for my turn.

                                That said, some people are extremely loud while on the phone. If I'm on the phone, I keep my voice only loud enough to be heard by the person on the other end of the line and, hopefully, low enough not to bother those around me. Consideration of others goes a long way.

                                1. re: alanbarnes

                                  You know what works? Turning your head and leaning ever so slightly in the cell phone person's direction, hanging on every word. If more than one or two people in the room do that I guarantee they'll either hang up or go outside.

                                  To the OP- yes, it's horrible manners, and you should definitely tell the owner what happened without naming names. Tell the owner you don't want to get anybody in trouble, but this is the behavior you saw and you think it's just awful. They will agree with you.

                                  Young Son (he's my one and only- that's not his name) works at a locally-owned high end bakery and restaurant. They are flat-out forbidden to use cell phones on duty. It's a firing offense, and that's the way it should be. I mean, come on, if you're a server you need to at least give the impression of paying attention to your customers. Same thing if it's a doctor too, now that I think of it.

                                  1. re: EWSflash

                                    Since it happened again tonight, I did mention it to the manager. The manager of Monterrey's Mexican Restaurant of Salisbury, NC told me that he also talks on the cell phone while waiting on tables and that it's not a big deal. No one else has a problem with it, so it's MY problem.

                                    They just lost a 20 plus yr customer who tips at the 20 to 30 percent rate with the exception of tonight. In all these years, I have never complained about one thing. Tonight, I took a stand on it, but the manager blew me off.

                                    If anyone does know who owns the place, yeah, they really ought to know. I would want to know if I owned a small restaurant. They only had two tables filled tonight, and I think I know why. The food is good, but the service has hit rock bottom.

                                    I don't think it would have helped to have pretended to listen in. The server was not even making eye contact. He clearly did not care. And, the manager took up for him and the practice of chatting on the cell phone while serving dinner.

                                    I will never go back to Monterrey Mexican Restaurant at 2094 Statesville Blvd, Salisbury, NC - (704) 630-0045‎.

                                    They must not need the business. I don't need any food bad enough to put up with the service and the attitude.

                                    1. re: CyndiA

                                      Good for you, CyndiA!

                                      Completely appropriate response!

                                      1. re: CyndiA

                                        There are a ton of Monterrey's in NC/SC/TN/GA, so I wonder how much of a "chain" it is and if there's some corporate office you could send a complaint.

                                        1. re: deibu

                                          No. I did some research and called the Environmental Health Office of Rowan County. This a small, private restaurant. The owner is named Solario. He also owns Casa Grande in Salisbury, NC.

                                        2. re: CyndiA

                                          Thanks for actually posting the details, all too often we get posts on the board that complain about something but don't actually help you avoid it.

                                          On the flip side, when I used to work for a major Unnamed Air Line years ago one of the most annoying things was trying to complete a transaction with someone while they yakked on their cell phone. The banality and trivialness of the conversations was mind boggling but they had to be self important and show everybody they had one. I finally took to takng the next person in line and telling the offender I'd hep them as soon as their conversation was over.

                                          1. re: Scrapironchef

                                            I didn't name the restaurant initially, because I hoped it was a one time thing. Annoying. But, I hated to ding them if it was not typical. With a second instance of the same cell phone serving and with the manager defending the practice and saying he does the same, I felt people should know.

                                            Avoid Monterrey Mexican Restaurant of Salisbury, NC unless you want really poor service and a bad attitude from the manager who thinks that as long as you get the food - "What's the difference? No one else complains."

                                      2. re: alanbarnes

                                        In my experience most people on cell phones are *far* louder than two people sitting next to one another, who usually speak in a more hushed tone just so that they *don't* bother other people.

                                        1. re: DGresh

                                          In my experience, men tend to be louder than women. Does that mean that men should be barred from public places?

                                          Perhaps the average person on a cell phone speaks more loudly than the average person carrying on an in-person conversation. But there are plenty of courteous cell-phone users, just as there are plenty of people who are obnoxious without that technology.

                                          The focus shouldn't be on gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, cell phone usage, or anything other than manners and common courtesy.

                                          1. re: alanbarnes

                                            I don't care what you do at your table. If you are waiting my table, then I do not appreciate being included in a cell phone conversation and not even being able to order dessert on a birthday. That has nothing to do with gender, ethnicity, or any other "born" trait. That is just rude - plain and simple. I do not expect special treatment at a restaurant, but I expect to be able to speak to the server. If he/she is chatting on a cell phone while waiting the table, then it is quite impossible to even get a refill on a drink.

                                              1. re: alanbarnes

                                                (-: I thought we were off the topic I posted a bit. I was not complaining about customers. This was my server. He did take the order as expected. From that point on, he was talking on his cell phone every time he stopped by the table. He did not even ask if we'd like to order anything else, and I would have with it being a birthday meal. He was chatting away when he walked by and stuck the bill on the table. He did not ask about more drinks or dessert or if we enjoyed the meal or anything. I felt really bad, since it was my son's birthday. The only time the server spoke to us was when he first took the orders. The other two times he was on his phone gabbing and picked up plates and dumped off the bill.

                                          2. re: DGresh

                                            "In my experience most people on cell phones are *far* louder than two people sitting next to one another. . ."
                                            Cognitive scientists assert that the reason it is annoying for us to listen to a cell phone conversation (and perhaps why it SEEMS louder) is because it is a one-way conversation. This type of discourse is difficult for the brain to process because we are not able to hear the the other's responses.

                                            1. re: globocity

                                              that theory makes sense -- at least for an inveterate eavesdropper like me!

                            2. It sounds very rude to me. I wonder if the restaurant is in good shape financially. I've seen signs asking guests to stay off the phone while placing to-go orders or picking up orders, etc. You need a similar type of sign!! Unfortunately, I am noticing incredibly rude incidents/people on a daily basis - unrelated to cell phone use - and it's really very sad and disappointing. Two underutilized expressions: "Excuse me" and "thank you." But I digress. On the issue of the cell phone, I am guilty of answering. I have the ringer turned off so that it vibrates and if an incoming call shows no caller i.d. then it oculd be my parents and that could mean an emergency. Or, I was recently at the determatologist and I had an incoming call from a neurologist - waiting for tht call for awhile - so the convenience is sometimes not an option. I can't always turn off my phone for an hour and check messages later. But unless it's very important, I let the call go into voice mail.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Bite Me

                                Sorry - I did not reply to the restaurant part. I would think they are solid. They have been around a long time and as I mentioned, they have good food and prices. The atmosphere is nice other than the new cell phone stuff. This really has never come up before. With the economy bad, I would think they would try extra hard. I'll probably go back, since I know and love this place. A first timer, I doubt they would ever go again.