Using Your Phone at the Table

Phones at the Table

Is it ever appropriate to use your phone at the table?

Eating alone is a solitary event, but dining is a social affair.  When you are with family, friends, or business associates, you want to be there with your full attention.
Being in active conversation with others is one of the goals of an enjoyable dining experience.  But that active conversation should include the humans with you, not the one on your phone.
Recently, a young man attending my class revealed that he thinks it is okay to text during a meal as long as it isn't a formal dinner.  He explained that if you are with family, they know you and understand as long as you are focused enough to know when you should speak.

However, conversation isn't just about speaking; it is about listening and attending to the flow of dialogue.  

Family dinners are a time to sit and talk with your loved ones, and exchange news of the day.  Participating in that conversation means giving it your full attention, which involves active listening.

The Table Tells All

Have you noticed that table settings only include the tools necessary to assist you during dinner with others?  There are plates, glasses, forks, knives, spoons, and napkins.  Add humans and food, and you have a complete dining experience. 

This is why the table etiquette rule is: No items other than those included in the table setting are appropriate on the dining table.  Ergo, phones and other electronic devices should not make an appearance during a meal.

Exceptions to the Rule

If you must have your phone at the table, set it to silent mode and keep it out of sight.

For instance, you choose to attend a dinner party, but are expecting an important work call.  Let your host know that you may have to step away for a moment to take a call.  When you feel the vibrating phone in your pocket or jacket, excuse yourself and leave the table.

It is also important to note: if you are hosting a meal, you have a right to kindly ask that your guests not use phones during their time at your table.

Are Rules Evolving Concerning a Phone at the Table?

Maybe.  The example above has become a common exception.  And it is also becoming commonplace for a table discussion to resolve itself with a Google search from a smart phone.  Or looking up a game score if everyone at the table is dying to know.

However, we need to tread carefully when it comes to allowing a phone at the table.  While it can contribute to dinner conversation, a phone can also cause huge distractions with its message dings and social media alerts.

I much prefer the social engagement of lively conversation and consistent eye contact to the heads-down, non-verbal, eyes-on-screen silence that occurs when electronic engagement is allowed during meal times. 

What do you think?  Let's continue this conversation here (as long as you're not at the table!).

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