Is it okay to Google the answer to your dinner table debate? Cellphone etiquette in a tech-driven world

(PHOTO: Getty Images/Gallo Images)
(PHOTO: Getty Images/Gallo Images)

It seems not everyone knows how to behave or show consideration in today’s tech-saddled world. Which is why American celebrity chef Jeremiah Tower has included a chapter called Techiquette in his new book, Table Manners: How To Behave In The Modern World And Why Bother.

Technology actually hasn’t changed things as much as people think it has, he says, and there’s never an excuse for bad manners.

This guide, he adds, is "to all those parents who care, and to any of their offspring who want to know. As well as to anyone else who is interested in how to behave to everyone’s advantage". Here are his tips on modern manners:

Taking and making calls during a meal

Business calls: There isn’t a host or plus one out there who enjoys hearing every two seconds, "I need to take this." If there’s an emergency in the office, absolutely step out. If you know things are going awry prior to the event, it may be best to cancel and head to the office to put out fires rather than disrupting the other guests, who aren’t getting paid to solve or endure this week’s work fiasco.

Emergency: The test of a true personal emergency is when everyone would agree it is. If you know in advance that something might happen, tell the host or your guests that you might be checking your phone or ducking out. Headphones A fine way to escape but not at the dinner table, during cocktails or at a party.

Keep it down or leave the room: Others around the table or at a cocktail party certainly don’t want to get a debriefing on the doctor’s appointment you just left. They don’t want to hear about your tragic break-up either. If you must talk on the phone, leave the room or at least find a quiet corner and cup your other hand over your mouth when you talk. Better yet, what’s so important it can’t wait?

Speakerphone: There really is no need unless Grandma Joan, who just had a hip replacement and wasn’t able to attend, calls to say hello to the whole family. Otherwise, follow the guidelines above for “Keep it down or leave the room”.

Vigilante action: Whether it’s a host or a guest, if someone’s cellphone barbarism is disrupting the whole event, any of your politer versions of "would you please shut up?" work well.


Go ahead and text but keep in mind that texting can exclude you from those around you, and them from you. If you find yourself unable to put your phone down, it may be a sign you aren’t having fun or would rather be hanging out with others, in which case it would be politer to excuse yourself than to kill the atmosphere by acting bored and uninterested.

There are a few exceptions. You want to text Dave because everyone’s sad he had to miss the event for a family function? You and your partner want to check in quickly with the kids? Fine. Use your judgment, keeping in mind what situations are isolating versus inclusive or essential.

Social Media

Being plugged in but checked out doesn’t contribute to any party or social gathering. Here is when it does – and doesn’t.

Facebook: If it feels irresistible to put event photos on Facebook, keep in mind that what’s amusing and of interest to you may not be to the host or to those who were left out of the party.

If you care that any uninvited friend may be hit with a serious case of Fomo ( fear of missing out), then don’t put them up. If any photos involve compromising situations, ask permission first. People might love you for it but going viral for some may be as much fun as a dose of Ebola.

Instagram: Feel the need to 'gram a selfie of you and an old friend you ran into at the gala or a mouthwatering shot of your main course to share with friends and followers? Before you Instagram with abandon, ask yourself two things: am I inconveniencing anyone by holding my phone at arm’s length to take a selfie?

Best not to knock the pricey lobster out of the waiter’s hands as he goes to serve it. And am I just doing this to make others jealous? If the answer is yes to either of these questions, best to keep your photos to yourself. As for taking pictures of every dish, if they can be done quickly without disrupting the service and without annoying other guests, then go for it.

Live tweeting If you’re at a charity cocktail party, a restaurant opening or any other event where publicity and attention are essential for success, and you have the host’s active permission, then go crazy. If not, it’s an unforgivable invasion of privacy, especially at an intimate dinner party.

(PHOTO: Getty Images/Gallo Images)


Google it: It’s tempting to look up the “right” answer to your table’s debate on who was thought most likely to win the 1948 presidency but keep in mind that this will conclude the conversation. And once you pull out your phone, others will too – dissolving what may have been a lovely conversation into a frenzy of checking texts and emails.

Phones on the table: If you need to have your phone on the table, make sure the screen faces downward, so that when it lights up with notifications guests around you aren’t distracted. And silencing your phone is not reserved for movie theatres. No one wants to hear your bells and whistles.

Pictures and videos: If you wouldn’t bring a photo album of your nephew to the table, then maybe it’s not the time to scroll through 20 photos of him on your phone for the other guests. If another guest hands you his or her phone to look at a series of pictures, scroll only forwards and never backwards, to avoid invading his or her privacy.

House rules

Cellphones: It’s increasingly accepted for the host to restrict the use of cellphones at an event. If you are the host you might tell your guests as they enter. Or have a sign asking them please to turn off their phones until they leave. Or seat a guest near an exit if he or she knows a long call will be coming through.

Social media: If you want your event all over Instagram’s Explore or everyone’s Facebook newsfeed, say nothing to your guests. If you don’t, say so. Announce to them when they’re invited that, for reasons of national security, you don’t want any social media photos to appear.

Everyone will laugh and some might even go along with it. 

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