Ask The Salty Waitress: Customers Won't Put Down Their Phones To Talk

Dear Salty, This isn't really a question, but I just need to vent to someone. I've been a bartender for 20 years, and in the past few years, I've noticed customers have almost totally stopped any of the small talk and conversation we used to have. Why? Because they're on their phones. I hand them a menu and they don't even look up. Five minutes later, they bark their order at me without making eye contact. I serve them the drink—still no eye contact. It's depressing. I know it's just the way things are and there's probably not much I can do about it, I don't want to bother customers. But I miss chit-chatting with people, it was one of the best parts of the job. Maybe you could remind everybody to look up once in a while?

Thanks for reading,Joel

Dear Joel,

I know you can't see me through the screen—a shame, I'm as gorgeous as you'd imagine—but I'm nodding up a storm. I'm not trying to have long, intense conversations with my tables, but something similar happens to me all the time. I go to take an order from a table that's had menus for 15 minutes, and they're all on their phones and haven't even thought about what they want to order. It can slow down service.

Look, nothing against phones in general. People need to check emails or settle a silly argument (no seriously, was it Dylan McDermott or Dermot Mulroney in Angles In The Outfield?) and I don't care whether you look at your phone or read a book or write the next great American novel while you eat.

But people, you're doing yourself no favors if you're always on your phone, especially in bars. Here's why.

You're missing out on intel. Your back-and-forth with your bartender is where they guide you toward a drink you'll really like. "Out of all our bourbon cocktails, I find this one is most popular for people who want just a little change from their regular Old Fashioneds" or what have you. You might find out the bar has a happy-hour special that's not listed, or a delicious fried pickle appetizer you wouldn't have tried, or an event this weekend that's up your alley.

You're also missing out on freebies. Bartenders aren't just going to slide a free sample across the bar unprompted. Usually a free drink or a taste of something comes after a little back and forth, as a sign of hospitality. "Oh, you like stouts? Here, try a little taste of this new one we just put on tap."

I can't tell how to pace you. People on phones in restaurants/bars are either really in a rush, multitasking, try to respond to emails while grabbing a quick drink—or they're super bored and killing time. I can't always tell which. If you take the time to actually talk to your bartender or server ("Hey, no rush on the appetizer, I'm killing time waiting for a friend") that's good for us to know.

You won't become a regular. A bartender might recognize your face, but they'll remember you as That Guy Always On His Phone and not much else. Polite, not-too-personal conversation makes me like you just a little bit more, which can't be a bad thing. Maybe you'll get a nice table next time, or a few extra cherries in your Shirley Temple.

Readers: Joel and I aren't wagging our fingers at you for checking your phone ever. But it's a little rude not to at least make eye contact with your bartender when you're giving them your order. They're a human being, trying to have a human interaction with you. Unless there's a reason you need to be staring at your phone, why not have a couple words with Joel instead? He seems like a real nice guy.

Got a question about dining out etiquette? Or just a general question about life we can help you with? Email us: