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How Do Chefs Really Feel About Cell Phones in Restaurants?

We reached out to restaurant professionals from all across the country, and their opinions may surprise you.
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Back in July, a restaurant owner posted a rant to Craigslist claiming that by comparing surveillance camera footage from 2004 and 2014, he discovered that the use of cell phones can slow down service by almost an hour, because distracted diners take longer to order, eat, and pay.

Comparing today's scenario to the more "old-fashioned," phone-free dining experience -- receiving a menu, reviewing it, placing your order, eating your meal, paying, and leaving -- it's easy to see why this particular restaurant owner was driven into a rage. Not only did the 2004 meals (which didn't involve phones) average 1:05, they just seemed to flow better, with fewer distractions from the food and the company.

The Craigslist poster's worst-case scenario: Customers turn the waiter away multiple times because they're too distracted by their phones to even look at the menu, and when the food arrives they spend several minutes taking photos of the food (and each other with the food). They then send their food back to the kitchen for reheating because the food got cold during their photo-taking. After they're done eating, they go right back to their phones, taking a while to request the check and even longer to pay it, and then asking the waiter to take a few group photos before finally leaving, bumping into others on the way out because they're texting while walking. Average meal time? 1 hour, 55 minutes.

This was one restaurateur's experience. But how do other restaurateurs and chefs really feel about cell phone use in restaurants? We reached out to restaurant professionals from all across the country, and their opinions may surprise you.

The chefs who chimed in hail from just about every style of restaurant, from casual to high-end, and represent a wide cross-section of cuisines: Martha Wiggins (Sylvain, New Orleans), Judy Joo (the forthcoming Jinjuu, London), Ali Loukzada, (Café Serai at the Rubin Museum, New York), Jason Weiner (Almond NYC and L&W Oyster Co., New York), Cynthia Kallile (The Meatloaf Bakery, Chicago), Chris Marchino (Spiaggia/Cafe Spiaggia, Chicago), Eric Miller (Bay Kitchen Bar, East Hampton), Sean Olnowich (Bounce Sporting Club, New York), and Joe DiMaio (Stars Rooftop & Grill Room, Charleston). TV personality Nadia G and dining app entrepreneur Joshua Stern also shared their opinions.

So read on to learn about how these chefs and industry professionals feel about cell phone use in restaurants -- and the next time you're dining out, try to pay attention to how much you use yours.

Eric Miller, Bay Kitchen Bar, East Hampton, New York
“For me, using cell phones in the restaurant prevents diners from interacting with their dining companions, which is insulting. It also prevents the staff, who are trying to provide you with hospitality, from doing so. Like a great therapist once said, bringing outside people into your conversations dilutes and distracts from the people you are with. If you are a doctor or parent on call, have the ringer on silent. Otherwise, no cell phones please!” Photo Credit: ShutterstockClick Here to See More of How do Chefs Really Feel About Cell Phones in Restaurants
Sean Olnowich, Executive Chef at Bounce Sporting Club, New York
“This is definitely a touchy subject for a lot of restaurateurs. As for me, I'm both for and against them, depending on their use. When it comes to people speaking on the phone while at the table, this a big no-no. It is not only rude to your guests, it is extremely obnoxious to other patrons dining around you, that have to listen to you speak on the phone, which is usually at a volume way louder than you would normally speak in person. As we understand, sometimes there are urgent matters, but one should politely excuse themselves in the event they must speak on the phone, and go to an area that will not interrupt the dining experience of others around them. Texting should also be kept to a minimum as it is once again, rude to your guest to constantly be on your phone instead of enjoying your company. I'm all for people taking pictures of the food, beverages, and ambiance so they have a memory of the restaurant experience. In the digital age that we live in, people usually post their experiences through photos on social media, which is a form of free advertising for the establishment, and only makes the viewing public interested in trying new places they haven't been yet.” Photo Credit: Shutterstock
Chef Joe DiMaio, Stars Rooftop & Grill Room, Charleston, S.C.
“I get to see my guests up close and personal every night at the restaurant because of our open kitchen, so I've seen a lot of positive and negative cell phone usage in the past few years. The positive is that these paying guests love the way your food looks so much that they are sharing it on social media, which in turn boosts popularity of our business. The negative is that they could be texting their boyfriend while the server is explaining the menu, or writing an email when their food has already been on the table for five minutes getting cold. I've heard some people say they don't want cell phone use in their restaurant, restaurant critic Bill Addison says all he wants for Christmas is a camera on his phone that takes perfect pictures with no flash in dark restaurants. Who is going to stop him? Not me; I mean, isn't the guest always right?” Photo Credit: ShutterstockClick Here to See More of How do Chefs Really Feel About Cell Phones in Restaurants
Joshua Stern, founder of I Know The Chef
“Operating a few food start-up apps (I Know The Chef and I Know The Winemaker), I've had my fair share of experience of calls and texts during meals. With everyone being available on their smartphones as much as we are these days, it's hard to avoid phone usage during meals. Sometimes, there are situations that come up that you have to tend to. That being said, if you're on a date and want there to be a second, don't check your phone until after dinner... “For a lot of people these days, including myself, photo taking in restaurants has become part of the experience. It allows diners to connect and share their meal in an amazing way. The entire dining experience is enhanced by connecting with dish details, sharing with other enthusiastic food lovers and taking note of favorite meals at restaurants you're excited to dine at. In my opinion, it should be limited to an extent and we should be mindful of our surroundings. Once the photo is taken, we should concentrate on our company, but I don't see anything wrong with photo sharing and think it's tons of fun!” Photo Credit: Shutterstock
Nadia G., host of Sick Kitchens with Nadia G. on
“I don't mind it at all. Phone fiddling is now a bona fide part of our culture. Plus, [cell phones are] a great distraction from social anxiety due to the existential realization that nothing really matters, and that ultimately you will die alone.” Photo Credit: Shutterstock Click Here to See More of How do Chefs Really Feel About Cell Phones in Restaurants