Cellphones are an annoying necessity; and this includes restaurants as well, however this doesn’t mean that cellphone usage should be immune from etiquette and subtle limitations.
Many of those amongst us – including ourselves – will have a multitude of tales to tell of when that special meal out, a relaxing dinner in a bistro or an important working lunch have been inconvenienced by that loudmouth on the table next door. “Her phone was constantly going off” or “We’re not interested in his conversation, no matter how loud he talks” are two frequent observations, as are the disruptive comings and goings of the serial phoner. It is not just limited to other tables as well; dining companions can ruin a whole meal with a few taps and a text; a Facebook meme doing the rounds at the moment proposes a great idea; at the start of the meal place all the cellphones in the centre of the table and the first diner to pick theirs up, pays the check. Full marks for whoever thought that one up!
Of course as cellphones become a evermore important fact of life, their usage goes far beyond the cellular. Recent trends appear to be playing games on phones, comparing new MP3s or eager food bloggers taking pictures of every course. With the flash on.
And so we can see that cellphones can be immeasurably irritating and wouldn’t we all want to ban them! Casting aside the feasibility of any ban (who would police it? Would anyone ever go to restaurants anymore? Or would they be like the non-smoking establishments in the United Kingdom, with a crowd of smokers under a tarpaulin outside in the rain, a gaggle of eager cellphoners under another one next to them?), the fact of the matter is that like them or loathe them, we need cellphones.
The very purpose of a cellphone is for mobile convenience. Modern business would take an antievolutionary step back if they were banned (a ban would likely need to be consistent with all public spaces, not just limited to restaurants). Whereas business can easily be taken outside, what about the parents enjoying a well overdue evening out, yet still ‘on-call’ to the babysitter? How about the person whose relative is sick, or old, or in need of urgent help? Yes, cellphones would be better if they were banned from restaurants, but only if one looks from the outside in and refuses to take into account the perception of others.
A much better and more measured approach would be to strongly encourage cellphone etiquette, akin to our Facebook friend from earlier. Many restaurants already do this (especially with regards to ‘no photography‘ policies). Keep them on silent, or vibrate. Take the call outside, or to the side of the room. Of course, advocates of banning cellphones will be screaming that people will simply not take heed. Well then, here’s a better idea. Ban the people using them, not the phones themselves.