Hey, this is entertaining: There's a discussion going on at the San Francisco Chronicle’s Between Meals blog, where one reader started up with how setting one’s phone on the table is irritating and makes it harder for your server to set plates down.
Grub Street’s Daniel Maurer wants to be able to set his phone on the table so he doesn’t sit on it in his back pocket (then again, as he self-references, he also wants iPhone chargers in restaurants because “our 3G has died on us mid-risotto so often that we figure this is a common problem.” If by “common problem” he means “things we have the luxury of complaining about in the first world”, then totally).
We figure the taking and making of calls is one thing – if you’re yelling down your phone in a restaurant, you’re affecting the atmosphere and that becomes everyone else’s business. But the debate touches on texting and web surfing with phones. The problem with setting it on the table is that – much like TVs dangling over the bar, a practice upon which we wish a pox in any establishment that isn't a dive – bright shiny screens tend to be distracting, so even if you don’t mean to use your phone during dinner, it’s going to sit there, glowing and twitching unless you turn it off.
But if this isn't happening at your table, there's not much you can do about it. It's depressing, and a sign of the times, yes, but not your problem. Diner X over there, who's having a "romantic" evening with his girlfriend as they both stare into their iPhone screens, is no different from the 60-something couple who sit across from each other and say nothing at our local Chinese restaurant.
People who want to avoid social interaction will always find a way to do so, regardless of what technology is available to them. But this isn’t like smoking – one person reading or texting quietly isn’t going to give you health problems. And what they do isn’t your business. Your business is enjoying the succulent slab of pork belly that some chef worked hard to braise perfectly.
Police what happens at your own restaurant table, and if, like us, you see no difference between attending to one’s phone and whipping out a Kindle or eating with one iPod earbud in, enforce some basic rules with your dining partner(s).