Ask The Salty Waitress: I Need An Exemption From This Restaurant's Cell-Phone Ban

Dear Salty, I've heard of more restaurants banning cell phones at their tables and in fact, a restaurant my wife and I like just started doing this. There's now a sign near the front door and a small note on the menu that says, "We respectfully ask guests not to use phones for texting or calls during meals. Please enjoy the experience."

This is fine with me—I don't like people bipping and beeping around on phones either. But I'm a doctor who sometimes receives emergency calls from patients or other doctors, and I really need to have my phone available. In the past, I'd set it to vibrate and keep it on the table next to my plate, but now I'm worried I'll get a dirty look or be asked to turn it off.

We like going to this restaurant, and nine times out of 10, I don't get any calls, but I do need to have my phone handy if it happens. Is there a middle ground here, or do I have to stop going to this restaurant?

Thanks,M.D. with an iPhone

Hey doc,

Seems to me you actually have a bit of wiggle room in this situation. My bet is the cell-phone policy is there to keep folks from yapping all through the dinner and disturbing other people, or from fiddling away at Candy Crush with the sound on. (Makes me long for the days of beepers, honest to god.) So if you're not doing either of those, maybe there's a gray area.

Now I'm going to take you at your word, buster, and don't make me regret it. If in fact your phone really doesn't ring often while you're at dinner, then I say it's fine to keep it in your pocket on vibrate. Maybe ask to sit near the door so that if it does ring, you can quickly get up—please don't spill or bump into anything—and step outside to take the call. Unless you make a big to-do about it, that shouldn't be disruptive to other tables and I doubt a server would say anything to you about it.

I thought of another plan B for you: If you typically get calls from the same place (your office, for example), maybe you could give the dispatcher a heads up that you'll be at a certain restaurant. Then they could call the restaurant and ask for you if it's an absolute emergency (it might discourage them from bugging you unnecessarily, too). Maybe you get calls from different patients, though, in which case this probably isn't possible.

Regardless, I don't think a server is going to track you down and scold you for quietly taking a call outside. Kids get sick, emergencies happen, and as long as you're not running in and out of the restaurant like a delivery driver, then I don't see why taking the call outside would be a problem. Just don't make a habit of it.