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Mar 7, 2012 08:09 AM

smart phones @ bay area restaurants [moved from San Francisco board]

We had a good (not perfect) dinner @ Chez Panisse Cafe on Fri. A treat at the week's end. We were there late; and the place was jumpin'. My leek salad and steak and Red and Green Zin and dates and mandarin oranges were just what the doctor ordered (the fried artichokes on the side of the steak, a bit tough, thought the accompanying nettles were fabulous). My husband was happy w/ the half-order of pasta to start, less thrilled w/ the moroccan-style fish that followed. And the servers weren't as attentive or mellow as usual, given, we assumed, the crowded room.

But that's not why I'm writing.

At tables all around us, people were on their smart phones. You looked up to a glare of lighted screens. And in that beautiful craftsman space, with all the grace of design that they've worked to create, there was this silent clatter (no phones actually rang--the "noise" was all visual).

I don't want to say it spoiled the atmosphere. It actually made me pay closer attention to my husband and our food, as I worked to not let my gaze wander!

So here are my questions. What Bay Area restaurants restrict the use of these devices? And how do they go about monitoring/enforcing a rule, in an era, where people (at least of a certain demographic) seem unable to be together, enjoying dinner companions and atmosphere and great food--enjoying being in the moment-- w/out checking the latest Facebook status or email message?

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  1. As noted in another thread, Atelier Crenn notes "no cellphones." But I must sheepishly confess, that we are a totally "wired couple." If one of us is away from the table, we probably whip the the phone out and check email. If we are debating where something is, or what to do after dinner....out comes the phone. (Frankly, we probably did this at least once at Atelier Crenn)

    We certainly don't have the ringer on, and we certainly don't take calls inside restaurants....but the smart phone use...totally guilty. I assume only at a place like the French Laundry, Benu etc. could you even hope that you wouldn't see smartphones.

    But assuming a guest wasn't being obnoxious about it, if someone briefly used it - I doubt the staff would make a big deal.

    5 Replies
    1. re: goldangl95

      Making calls, ringers going off, playing games with sound on, that's annoying other customers, but how is it anybody's business what you're quietly doing at your table? Other customers should mind their own business.

      Generally I think it's antisocial for other people at my table to use a smartphone or tablet, but what if you want to look up an obscure wine on the wine list, or an ingredient the server can't identify/

      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        if people at other tables are aware and bothered by it is it really just your private business? If you want to have control of your meal completely eat at home! A restaurant is a public space not your home.

        1. re: tjinsf

          Oh dear. I must disagree. If the general crowd or general public finds added benefit and enjoyment in having their smart phones accessible during dinner, then isn't it the people who want to ban cellphone usage in all situations, the people who should stay at home?

          So in the case of Chez Panisse, if most diners are using their smart phones to research items, schedule plans with friends, look up movie times, check their work e-mail...which diners are the imposition? The ones trying to stop the accepted behavior or the ones engaging in it?

        2. re: Robert Lauriston

          Yeah, I agree. I fail to see how someone at another table reading a smart phone distracts from the decor and experience of a restaurant any more than a solo diner reading a book or another group having a conversation.

        3. re: goldangl95

          my understanding of Atelier Crenn's prohibition was "no cell phone use, no flash photography" which we took to mean, don't talk on your phone, don't use the flash if you take pics. we took pics of our entire meal - without flash. we were just overjoyed with what we were served and wanted lasting memories of it - and no one gave us a second glance - and we were totally in the moment and enjoying ourselves. if it bothers others, we totally would stop. if someone told us it was bothering them, we would stop. if the restaurant acted like they didn't like it, we would stop. the restaurant was incredibly accommodating of our picture taking.

        4. I don't know of any that ban their use, but you'll want to avoid Barbacco--- iPads on each table serve as the wine list. I'm definitely guilty of checking e-mail on my phone while my friends hit the bathroom, and even I find those iPads intrusive.

          1. There are at least two distinct levels of this debate. On the one hand, electronic jamming is technically possible but illegal in almost all cases since some people have a legitimate need to be tethered to their networks. I look forward to a day when the technology evolves to a point where the jamming can be more like a firewall that allows legitimate use while preventing casual use. It should be a choice for businesses to restrict networked electronics or not. Let the public and the market determine when this is appropriate or not. For now it is regulated and there is no choice but to put up with networked droids all around you.

            I think you are not asking about that, but asking about the etiquette of what businesses can do to discourage use of electronics. The answer is not much. But here's a funny video from the Alamo Drafthouse folks that may be re-opening the New Mission Theatre. They ban cell use during shows and apparently bounce people for it:

            I also enjoyed a recent Fresh Air interview with NYTimes writer Philip Galanes who has a nicely nuanced view on this topic.

            6 Replies
            1. re: BernalKC

              Illuminated phone / tablet screens in a dark theater are distracting to other customers. That's pretty different from a restaurant.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                Smartphone usage is rampant in most commercial movie theaters. PFA tries to hold the line, but there are still people who feel they have to check their email/texts while the movie is playing.

                It's an unfortunate sign of the times. There is one unmentioned danger of cell phone usage on balconies and upper decks. To my knowledge once at a Giants game and once at the Castro theater in January, someone dropped a cell phone from above and hit someone else in the head. Ouch! I guess they were having trouble juggling their hot dog or popcorn.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Dark theatre, quiet intimate restaurant... different and not so different. Should a doctor be obliged to step outside the screening room to look at his emergency txt message? Is it not distracting to have the person next to you at an intimate restaurant tapping away in a blue glow? There are no bright lines between OK and no OK.

                  I guess in my ideal world, individual business proprietors would be allowed to make the call to ban or not, provided legitimate needs like first responders are respected, and the paying pubic could vote with their dollars about when that is desirable and when it is not.

                  1. re: BernalKC

                    Dark movie theater vs restaurant, not so different. But live theater is a whole different kettle o'fish. Very distracting to the actors, because the blobs of light are quite visible from the stage. Many of the theaters are asking folks specifically not to use them and explaining why.

                    1. re: lemons

                      My husband doesn't let me check email on my smart phone when HE is driving. He says that the glare off the screen distracts him. He's ok with me reading a book or the kindle (the relatively low-tech, non-lighted screen version....). So I can see where folks might be bothered the same way when they are dining....

                      1. re: janetofreno

                        That's really very unreasonable of your husband.

                        People will do as they will, but I don't blame the restaurants that establish policies. Eventually there will be understood etiquette with regards to these things

              2. I freaking hate this so much. I love that Atelier Creen has no cellphones and I think AQ may have it too but I'm not sure. We have a rule that once we sit down, no cellphone at all. I think it's ok if you are dining solo and not taking calls but I still wouldn't do it when I dine solo. If you really must make a call, go outside or go to the bathroom, same for checking twitter, facebook. I admit as soon as we leave I tweet up a storm.

                1. This is what I think is funny about the people who complain about silent cell phone usage at other tables when dining out: they are basically so distracted by other people that they're probably devoting as much attention to their companions and their food as the cell phone users are.

                  I have never found cell phone usage by others to be that big of a deal. There are always going to be rude people, with and without cell phones. If there's an issue, I'll say something to the restaurant staff. But I'm not going to get mad because a cell phone rings once or twice or because people around me are using cell phones any more than I'd get mad if someone breaks a glass or if someone is reading a book.

                  For the record, I rarely use my cell phone when I'm dining out. I usually turn it off but may occasionally use it if I need to coordinate with someone who is meeting me shortly or if someone at the table insists one of us google something. Even then, I try to be discreet about it because I think using your phone when you're out with people is rude to the other people in your party (but not to people at other tables). If I get somewhere early and am waiting for someone, I have no problem with pulling my phone out and reading or checking my email.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: bkbits

                    funny how when someone disagrees with someone they say it must be able the person. I guess restaurants that also ban cell phone just have some psychological problems? Really can we not stoop to arm chair psychology?