HOUSTON - These days, seeing someone on his or her phone, even at a fancy restaurant, is pretty common.
If people aren’t talking on their smartphones, they’re texting, checking their emails, maybe even posting food shots to Instagram. Well, some restaurant owners say they’re fed up.
A manager at Houston’s told KHOU the chain has a policy to not allow diners to talk on their phones at the table.
The franchise is joining the growing number of restaurant owners around the country demanding diners put down the phone and pick up the fork.
Just how prevalent is seeing a cell phone while dining out?
“Half the time, you’re in a restaurant, and you look around, and everyone is looking down. No one is looking at anyone else at the table. It just kills me,” said Ben Melson, a frequent diner.
It’s upsetting to people who work in and run the restaurants, too. Some establishments around the country are banning cell phone use at tables altogether. Others are putting restrictions in place.
“It’s unfortunate and whatnot to see people on a date just staring down. Can’t stop that, though,” said Megan Protz, general manager of Churrascos in the River Oaks area.
The restaurant has an understood rule that all phone calls be taken outside. However, gone are the days where chatting loudly was the main etiquette concern.
“I think it’s more texting than it is talking on the phone,” Protz said.
Restaurateurs are now strongly encouraging customers to interact with the folks with whom they came to have lunch or dinner. Customers, including Whitney Larkin, say it’s just rude to do anything else.
“It looks like people are texting. Maybe they’re playing games, I’m not really sure, but they’re not paying attention to each other,” Larkin said.
Tables are now often lit up with blue screens. Diners are posting to social media, and perhaps letting their meals get cold.
Not everyone’s a fan of an all-out ban. Customers say a call from a babysitter is always a priority, as well as responding to an email from the boss. Ana Eme, enjoying Restaurant Week in the City of Houston, says the content on your phone can actually help lead a good in-person conversation.
“You can show something on your phone, something funny on your phone," Eme said. "Instead of bringing your book and showing a passage from it, everything is on your phone."
There’s research that’s shown, though, that even having your smartphone within reach probably won’t make you a better dinner companion.
Even if you’re not checking e-mail or Instagramming, the mere presence of a smartphone can reduce empathy and diminish conversation between two people.
“I try to keep my cell phone away, put it on vibrate, keep it in my pocket,” Melson said.
Some restaurants around the country are even offering incentives to unplug at the table. There’s one restaurant in Sioux City, Iowa, that’s offering a 10-percent discount to diners if they put their cell phones in a special box during the meal.