Restaurants are starting to recognize a growing dining trend that might not be good for business.
Folks sit down at the table and immediately pick up their cell phones. Many never put them down.
“I don’t get it.” Said Raoul Villa, a manager at Flagstaff’s Dara Thai restaurant. “People are so taken by their phones, there’s no discussion [between them]. They just eat and leave.”
In today’s digital device-crazed society, nobody leaves home without their phones.
“If I see my friends take out their phone, then I’ll take mine out, too. I usually follow their lead on that,” said Ariella Valencia, who frequently dines out in Tucson. “I’m not on the phone when the food comes out, though.”
But more and more restaurants are seeing diners hang onto their phones throughout their meals.
Though it seems harmless to pick up your phone to take a picture of your dinner plate for Instagram or check into Facebook as you’re enjoying your dinner, it may be a bigger problem than you think for restaurant workers.
Claudia Ariosa has worked as a server at Tucson restaurant Bamboo Terrace for six years and she has seen an increase in people bringing their phones to the tables. Ariosa said that sometimes this creates a distraction in the service she’s trying to give to her customers.
“When we go up to the table to ask what they’d like to drink, we may get shooed away or polity given a signal [to wait] for a moment,” she said, “The problem with that is that they stay on the phone for long periods of time and we normally won’t go back until they are off the phone.”
Ariosa said she occasionally gets ignored completely by customers on their phones, which can back up service to other tables in the restaurant.
“We may go to a group at a table who says they are ready, but one person doesn’t know what they want because they’ve been on the phone and we stand there as they look through the entire menu,” Ariosa said.
People who are paying more attention to their phones may not just be missing out on their service, but also on their food. Practicing nutritionist and dietitian Karen Russell, who is located in Sedona, says customers might not be eating properly due to their phones.
“They’re not being mindful,” she said, “Mindless eating can cause you to miss out on the taste. They’re also probably not chewing enough and not digesting properly.”
Villa agrees that customers are missing out on their food.
“I don’t think they realize what the food is tasting like. The food and the service are secondary to their phones,” he said.
Another problem may be overeating due to the distraction.
“You can easily eat more than you should.” Russell said, “It takes you a while before it registers that you’re full and people are eating faster.”
When Valencia was told that taste could be compromised and overeating was a possibility, she said she had no idea phones could cause that.
“That’s so crazy. It makes sense, though,” she said.
Some restaurants, though, are going with the digital device flow. Chianne Hewer, public affairs and communications manager for the Phoenix-based Arizona Restaurant Association, said restaurants are embracing technology.
Some are incorporating things like apps, Yelp, online ordering and electronic menus.
“We have to be aware and adapt to it,” said Hewer, whose organization represents restaurants statewide. “A server may have to say ‘pardon’ a few more times, but customers are going to do what they want to do.”
“We’ll never just be run by robots,” she added. “Face to face communication is so important and servers make a huge impact on our customer service.”
Jacquelyn Montaño is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism at the University of Arizona. Reach her firstname.lastname@example.org.