Restaurant Reality

Restaurant_Setting

This article has been making the rounds on the internet.

Basically, an unnamed restaurant in New York compared surveillance footage from diners in 2004 with footage from 2014, trying to figure out how service has devolved in ten years. SPOILERS: It’s the diners’ fault. Most were preoccupied with their phones to the point of slowing down the meal and impeding with prompt service.

I have to admit—I’m guilty. I try not to take pictures of food, and I try to engage in conversation with the actual people present than with those available through email or social media, but there are still times when I find a lull in the conversation and a sneak a look at my messages. Or when I’m so consumed with reviews on Yelp that I add thirty minutes to the meal, just figuring out what to order.

But it’s interesting when you consciously try to avoid technology over the course of the meal, and you realize that others in your party are having just as difficult a time ignoring it. I’ve waiting patiently for one particular friend to finish texting, to find that he’s kept his phone on the table, face up, to continue the conversation throughout the meal. I’ve winced as another friend documented every dish with a post on Instagram (including the plates I ordered). To me, it’s about more than just longer wait times at restaurants; it’s about what it actually means to be present and engaged with the people around you (waiters included). Attention is just as important as physical presence. There’s a reason why eye contact is so powerful; it can encourage or intimidate, depending on the context. Distraction can be powerful as well, but usually only in how it weakens our message. Asking how someone’s day went is a lot more meaningful with eye contact than when asked while scanning the latest updates on a newsfeed.

It reminds me of Elder Bednar’s CES fireside from 2009, where he counseled the youth to take virtual reality with a grain of salt and appreciate “things as they really are.” His reasoning came from the divine truth that the body is a gift from God, and that, “our relationships with other people, our capacity to recognize and act in accordance with truth, and our ability to obey the principles and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ are amplified through our physical bodies.” In short, when we are face-to-face with someone, fully engaged, we are communicating with our soul (both the body and spirit). Just as we are only partly present in our online communications without a physical manifestation, we cheat our in-person interactions of the full soul when we avert our gaze and devote only limited consciousness to the other person.

In regards to dining, I wonder whether it’s simply a shift in culture, or whether we’ll eventually come to our senses and snap back to the way things were before, when meals were about present company and food was simply appreciated, rather than being documented at every turn. In any case, I’m going retro. I want to be a more conscious (and conscientious) dinner participant. If you see me checking my phone in a restaurant, do me a favor and send me a text message to stop it. Then turn your phone off.

9 thoughts on “Restaurant Reality

  1. I must admit to getting sucked into virtual life, especially when it fits in my pocket. I think I’ve lost the ability to sit with my own thoughts. Must work on that.

    1. Sarah–Same trap for me. Sitting with my own thoughts stresses me out sometimes, as I keep thinking about the things I need to get done. For some reason, I feel better when I “doing” something (even if the “doing” is actually just mindlessly looking at a screen). We need to feel comfortable within our minds and at peace being in the moment.

  2. We went out to eat with our six kids the other day and I have a “no phones at the table” rule. (although some times it’s allowed if one of the kids asks what time the sun will rise the next morning or something that needs to be looked up to be answered.) Anyway, the waitress came up to us at the end of the meal and informed us that we had been her only table all night that had actually sat and talked to each other. It was so unusual that she had even mentioned it to the restaurant’s manager (“look! A family that is interacting!”). While I was proud to be “the good family”, it makes me so sad to think of all the families who aren’t taking the opportunity to truly spend time together. While cell phones are the biggest culprit, I am also completely horrified about the majority of restaurants that have TV’s in every direction. How is that even a good idea?

    1. I love that, Hildie! Sad that it was so rare for the restaurant to have an interacting family, but still great to reinforce the importance of a “no phones” rule. I don’t have any kids, but I still feel like enforcing a similar rule between me and my husband. We’ll eat together at home, and both be distracted by our phones or laptops. It’s embarrassing to admit.

  3. I hate the TVs everywhere too Hildie–it’s so distracting for me and my kids!

    I just barely got a smartphone a few months ago and have yet to figure out why taking pictures of everyone and everything is so cool. I’m that annoying person who forgets about her phone and doesn’t look at it for hours at a time. I hate it when I’m with people that just get out their devices and glue themselves too them at every chance they can get

    1. Jessie, sometimes I wish I could go back to my pre-smartphone era. It’s immensely useful, yet can be debilitatingly addictive. I’m tempted to give my phone up for a week, but still too cowardly to do so.

  4. I’ve seen groups at restaurants where all the phones are put in a pile, and the first person to grab their phone has to pay the table’s bill. That’s a good incentive to leave the phone alone!

    I happily admit I take pictures of food, though I can’t remember ever taking photos of someone else’s. But if I’m out with friends, my focus is on my friends – and it annoys me when I’m competing with their electronics. Thanks for the reminder to switch of and really engage with real life!

  5. Amen! Tonight my husband gently reminded me that I was on my phone. I’d started playing DrawSomething with my 14 yo. Usually we are good at no phones during dinner rule. The art of conversation is becoming a thing of the past.

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