The Cell Phone Debate

The Cell Phone Debate

Is It Proper Etiquette To Use Mobile Devices In the Dining Room, Kitchen?

“As long as people don’t have loud conversations on their phones in the dining room, I’m fine.”—Chris Cosentino
Chris Cosentino adheres to a no-cell phone policy during shifts.

Cockscomb is anything but quiet. Located in an industrial building in San Francisco’s chic SoMa (South of Market) neighborhood, the new American-focused eatery can certainly handle the noise. Its two-level structure is composed of raw concrete walls, soaring ceilings, a half-circle balcony perched slightly over the dining room and an open kitchen.

That’s why diners using cell phones is the last thing on chef/owner Chris Cosentino’s mind. They’re not much of a distraction. And though more customers text and use social media than talk on the phone, at this point he couldn’t stop them if he wanted to.

“As long as people don’t have loud conversations on their phones in the dining room, I’m fine,” says the “Top Chef Masters” winner best known for perfecting haute cuisine offal dishes.  “I’m mostly focused on what’s going on in the kitchen. I do have a 100 percent open kitchen, but whenever a phone does ring, which is pretty rare, and I can hear it, the person instantly shuts it off or answers it.”

Diners using their phones to talk typically take their conversations outside, adds Cosentino, but those using social media conduct those interactions in the dining room.

“Guests are always going to use (their cell phones) because they’re taking pictures of their food more than ever. Because ‘it doesn’t happen unless you tweet it or Instagram it,’” quips Cosentino. In a sense, he believes, it’s free advertising for the restaurant when satisfied customers gush on social media about their experiences as they’re experiencing them.

“If they are smart, everyone in the restaurant business will realize that customers taking photos of their parties having fun or the food presentations is good publicity and a part of a positive customer experience,” adds Tim Borden, a managing partner of the Chicago-based A-List Marketing Solutions, who has consulted for more than 1,000 bars and restaurants in 25 major metropolitan areas since 2000.

“We have no business interfering,” he continues. “In fact, we should encourage it! Fifteen years ago it would have been a dream come true for a customer taking a photo of our food and making the effort to share it with their friends.”

“If they are smart, everyone in the restaurant business will realize that customers taking photos of their parties having fun or the food presentations is good publicity and a part of a positive customer experience.”—Tim Borden

But, there are still industry naysayers who believe guests using their phones are missing out on the full experience of the restaurant. Borden strongly disagrees.

“We don't get to dictate to customers what their experience should be,” he insists. “Industry folks I hear getting surly about this are craving a ‘proper respect’ for their time, effort and expense. I sympathize, but in 2016 the public is not impressed by much, and they want to have a night out on their own terms.”

Cosentino believes that instead of fighting change, more restaurant owners should embrace it and capitalize on it. “(As a restaurateur), you have to use it to your advantage because it’s never going away,” he advises. “I have some chef friends who actually encourage people as long as they hashtag the restaurant. It’s a very cool thing and it’s been very smart for them.”

How About Staff?

But while he applauds the use of phones in his restaurant from customers, he adds that there’s a time and place when staffers should use them. “What I have seen a lot of lately in the restaurant industry is that cooks do not take smoke breaks anymore. They take Instagram breaks. They leave the restaurant and go outside and they look at Instagram and Twitter.”

Cosentino admits he’s an avid social media user because he “definitely sees the instant reaction when you post something,” however, he reserves using his phone as a tool during service. “I have conversion apps on my phone. I have the new Google translator so I can translate recipes in other languages and read (international) books that I have never been able to read, so I think phones are very beneficial,” he says.

He adheres to a no-cell phone policy during shifts, and industry expert Tim Borden is in complete agreement. “Smart phone use by staff during shifts is a tough issue,” says Borden.

“Most venues don't allow it because staff tends to become distracted and service suffers. I wish there was a way to mitigate this, as we could gain a lot of publicity for the venue and improve customer-staff bonding. If, for example, a bartender could snap a photo of a couple at the bar and post it with a complimentary comment. Perhaps as our use of social media and mobile devices continue to mature this will be possibility.”


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