Is It OK to Check My Smart Phone at a Restaurant?

Categories: SF Etiquette

​Fielding your questions about dining out in 21st-century Bay Area restaurants. Have one? Email me at

This week's question comes from from A.U.:
I know it's rude to answer the phone while I'm at dinner, but what about texts or emails on my iPhone? I'm not talking to anyone.
A.U., I think it all depends on the circumstances. For example, if you're eating by yourself at lunch, anything goes, as long as you keep your ringer on vibrate. I often use lunch as a chance to read the newspaper online and respond to emails, and don't begrudge anyone else who does so -- reading a small screen is as intrusive as reading a paperback book.

Dinner -- or business lunches with another person -- are another matter. To me, the whole point of spending time in person with friends over good food is for all of you to enjoy the experience. To get together with a friend I haven't seen in weeks, only to sit around waiting while he chats with someone else, turns me into Angry Ram Dass: Be here now, asshole.

I'd argue that cell phones should be kept where your mother told me to keep your elbows: off the table.

If you're having an argument over whether Bradley Cooper or Josh Lucas starred with Reese Whitherspoon in Sweet Home Alabama, it's perfectly OK to whip out the iPhone out of your purse to check on IMDB. Leaving the phone on the table afterward, where you fidget with it like you do all day at the office, or deciding to show your friends your six favorite YouTube clips -- well, that can keep for later.

Same with texting. If your pocket buzzes and you're waiting for a text, it's fine to pull your phone out onto your lap and read it, even shoot off a -- "at dinner will text back later" message. Holding up the conversation at the table for 10 minutes while you correspond with Friday's date, or checking your email while your pork chop is growing cold: not so much.

And if you're sitting down for a $300 prix-fixe at a restaurant you've been trying to get into for months, why would you want to waste those hours monitoring Twitter to see who's winning the Giants game? Make frequent bathroom runs like the rest of us.

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