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(Expert Feature) Mobile Phones at the Dinner Table – Acceptable or Etiquette Nightmare?

smart phone etiquette

Do you bring your cell phone to the dinner table at home or in a restaurant?

Do you answer calls or text at the table? How about participating in a conference call while seated in a quiet cafe? Perhaps you’re not the culprit, but you’ve been disturbed by someone else and their public displays of business, child rearing or family gossip.



I must admit that I’m somewhat torn about this topic. As a social media consultant, I encourage people to check-in to businesses, look for online deals, take pictures and upload them to Instagram, tweet, etc.

However, I’m finding that often people in public places on their cell phones are becoming more annoying to me. In my opinion, we need some formal rules of etiquette and also businesses, especially restaurants and cafes, should take a stand.

And some restaurants have taken that stand.

For example, reports that one Los Angeles restaurant offers a discount to diners who “check” their phones. The diners interviewed have mixed opinions about this idea.

An article in the New York Times talks about restaurants in New York City who ban food photography because it’s too disruptive.

Someone even started a page on Facebook called Ban Cell Phones from Restaurants. They have 216 fans so far. (Warning: Coarse language in some posts.) This may look like a great place to vent, but I’m not sure it’s the best way to handle this challenge.

I recently was caught in the middle of an argument in a café between a man holding a very loud cell phone conversation and another man who yelled at the first  man for doing so. They stood up, bumped chests, yelled and asked me what I thought. I told them they should both shut up.

Unfortunately, the etiquette around using cell phones is rather vague at the moment, although the experts in the Table Manners group on LinkedIn, led by Maria Erdman, suggests that the general rules of dining etiquette should apply.




For example, below are several scenarios and the suggested rules of cell phone etiquette:

You’re dining in a restaurant with friends and your cell phone vibrates. It’s a business call. What do you do?

To be proper, the best option is to ignore your cell phone completely, turning it off so calls go directly to voicemail. If you must look at your phone, you have a couple of choices:

1. Ignore the call until after your meal and give your full attention to your friends. Return the call after you leave the restaurant.

2. Excuse yourself from the table and take the call outside. Mobile calls should not be taken inside a restaurant or cafe.


should cell phones be used at the dinner table

Should cell phones be placed on the dining table?

According to the experts, personal items, including cell phones, small purses, etc., should never be placed on the table. If someone wants to share photos or a web page on the phone, and the entire party is involved, then this type of interaction is appropriate.

However, the phone should not be placed on the table beyond this activity.


You’re at dinner when your friend continues to text her children. Should you say something?

Yes. Politely ask her to either put her phone away or step outside to continue her conversation.


You’re in a quiet café where people around you are working on their computers, reading the paper and conversing quietly. You really need to call into a conference call with clients or co-workers. What do you do?

Cafés have become the new office for many workers today. Even so, people expect a certain level of respect and consideration by others.

Often participation in a conference call requires you to speak louder so others on the call may hear you. The café is not a place for this type of call.

Take your call elsewhere – sit in your car, go back to your office, find another appropriate place.



The bottom line: Follow these simple rules.

  • Be courteous to those around you. If you see people giving you the evil eye, then leave the area to continue your call or text.
  • Plan ahead for meetings and calls so you can find a private place.
  • Don’t take pictures of your food unless you can be discreet and the restaurant allows such photography. Never use flash.
  • When you’re dining with friends – be with your friends. Don’t text, tweet or otherwise use your cell  phone.

That’s it – A start to the new rules of etiquette for a mobile world. Some of you will agree and some won’t.

Please tell us your thoughts below.

About Melanie Yunk (50 Articles)
Melanie Yunk, President, Roaring Pajamas Melanie Yunk started working as a social media and search engine optimization consultant early in 2009, when she founded Roaring Pajamas, a digital marketing agency in Northern California. Melanie is passionate about helping businesses market their products and services online. She brings more than 20 years of marketing, engineering and content experience to clients from various industries, including search engines, construction, retail, B2B, wholesale, heavy duty trucks, authors and more. Melanie previously founded Melanie's Fine Foods after purchasing Big Acres® Gourmet Sauces where she expanded the line to be distributed nationwide and in Canada. She also founded Yunk Consulting where she assisted software and semiconductor companies in implementing international standards for electronic databooks that she also helped developed while working at Intel Corporation. Her earliest career began at Honeywell Commercial Flight Systems where she worked on the Boeing 777 and MD11 cockpit projects. She continues to write on the Roaring Pajamas Blog and also as a guest blogger writing about all natural and gourmet foods. Melanie volunteers as a Board Member for the San Carlos Chamber of Commerce and former President of the Advisory Board for the Rosalie Rendu Center in East Palo Alto. She lives in San Carlos with her husband Kent and two Cornish Rex cats.

5 Comments on (Expert Feature) Mobile Phones at the Dinner Table – Acceptable or Etiquette Nightmare?

  1. Thanks for the post Melanie! It’s so ironic how the popularity of SOCIAL media is making us less SOCIAL than ever before. I know I’ve been guilty of sharing a meal with friends and family and updating my Facebook status at the same time. Instead of socializing online I should be socializing with the humans sitting in front of me. I applaud efforts to minimize the use of smart phones in restaurants and during family/friend time. We’re just about to implement a policy in our house where friends and family “check” their phones at the door so we can really enjoy each other’s company. Thanks for highlighting this important issue!

    • Hello Sydni,

      Thank you so much for your comment (and your honesty). I think we’re all guilty of cell-phone abuse at one time or another. Those little machines are difficult to ignore, especially when they’re flashing, beeping and pulsing. Love, love, love the new home policy! Congratulations!

  2. I agree with Sydni and I do the same thing when I am with my wife and kids! I don’t want my kids and wife to ever think they’re not more important than my social media life. Your post actually made me think twice when I was talking to someone and my phone rang. Both times I let it go to voicemail and stayed focused. Thanks for the reminder!

  3. I’ve always wondered why this is an issue, at all. Yes, to go out to dinner with someone on a social occasion it is completely unacceptable to ignore your dinner companion and text/talk on your cell phone. But that is an offense against your dinner companion not everyone else in the room. Do we get upset with people in a restaurant when they stuff a napkin in their shirt collar? How about if they use the wrong fork with their salad, or put ice cubes in their wine? the bottom line is it isn’t any of our business what someone is doing at their table.
    If the meal is a business meeting, and the phone conversation/text is necessary to the meeting, then it should be acceptable… but no one knows that except the people at the table.
    We live in a world where offense is easily taken for the most nondescript reason and real offense is defended as personal freedom. We really need to get some perspective and perhaps a life.

    • Dear Lou,

      Thank you so much for your comments, your passion about this topic and for taking the time to be with your dining companions instead of using your mobile phone! Your point that the entire room isn’t responsible for the actions of a single person make sense to me, and I don’t believe the intent of my post is to empower the room to enforce or be involved. However, the actions of one person should never be disruptive to many, as is the case with someone who’s talking loudly on their phone. Anyway, thanks again!

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