I count myself lucky to have friends who don't pull their phones out while we're at the table—whether it's a cafe table over coffee, a pub table over drinks, or a dining table over a meal. However, my own friends aren't so lucky. Due to the nature of my work, they often have to put up with me whipping out my cell phone—I rarely bust out the big camera these days, to save them the embarrassment of looking like they're dining with the food paparazzi—to get photos for a blog post, to remember a meal for future dining listings, or any number of job-related reasons.
This is why I'm hyper-sensitive to bringing out my phone at the table. My friends are polite enough not to spend our time together engrossed in Facebook or Twitter or texting with other people; I want to extend the same courtesy to them as much as possible.
However, I'm also aware that in some situations, your phone must make a public appearance. Here's how to handle technology at the table with efficiency, discretion, and politeness.
OKAY: Taking out your phone for a quick photo of a dish. Maybe you want to try and replicate it at home. Maybe you want to show it to someone later. Maybe you want to have a tangible memory of a beautiful meal. Understood.
NOT OKAY: Immediately uploading that photo to Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Urbanspoon, Yelp, etc. This takes a lot more time than snapping a fast shot, time during which you're actively ignoring your dining companions. You can always upload it later, at home. (They even invented a hashtag expressly for this purpose: #latergram.)
OKAY: Trying to get your dish into good light for a photo.
NOT OKAY: Getting someone else to spotlight your dish with their phone's flashlight app. Would you take a flash photo of your food with a camera? No. It's bright and obnoxious and makes the other tables want to snatch your phone away and drop it into a pitcher of iced tea.
OKAY: Answering a quick text message and/or email from someone you're expecting or need to respond to ASAP, such as a boss, child, parent, or significant other.
NOT OKAY: Conducting an entire conversation with someone via text or email. Tell the person you'll get back to him or her later, when you're not at a meal.
OKAY: Stepping outside to take an important or urgent phone call.
NOT OKAY: Answering that phone call—or any other—at the table. At least try and make it to the restroom, where you can hear the other person clearly and don't have to shout to be heard. And if the phone call can wait until later, it should.
OKAY: Checking into a Foursquare location or Facebook location before you've been seated.
NOT OKAY: Fumbling around with your check-ins (which I have personally never been able to understand the necessity of) while you're at the table.
It's even easier to apply a general rule of thumb to phone etiquette at the table: Are you ignoring your dining companion for more than 30 seconds? If so, stow that phone. You wouldn't pull out a book and start reading it at the table. You wouldn't mentally check out at a group dinner and start working a sudoku puzzle in silence. You wouldn't move one table over and start a conversation with another person you know while leaving your dining companion alone. So why are any of these activities okay on a phone?
It's not. And now you know better.