Food Nation

Viral Craigslist Post Says Smartphones Are Ruining Dining Out...But Are They?

About two weeks ago, an anonymous commenter posted a diatribe to the Craigslist "Rants and Raves" section that has actually made people pay attention (as opposed to recent Houston posts about kids at Starbucks and the stupidity of Craigslist readers).

"We are a popular restaurant for both locals and tourists alike," the post reads. "One of the most common complaints on review sites against us and many restaurants in the area is that the service was slow and or they needed to wait a bit long for a table."

In order to determine why service was slower than in the past in spite of adding more staff and training the staff better, this restaurant supposedly located some surveillance footage from 2004 and compared it with recent surveillance footage from the same day of the week approximately ten years later. The result? According to the post, diners spend an average of 50 minutes more now than they did ten years ago, and smartphones are the culprit.

Here are some of the things the restaurant claims to have found:

7 out of the 45 customers had waiters come over right away, they showed them something on their phone and spent an average of 5 minutes of the waiter's time. Given this is recent footage, we asked the waiters about this and they explained those customers had a problem connecting to the WIFI and demanded the waiters try to help them.

26 out of 45 customers spend an average of 3 minutes taking photos of the food.

14 out of 45 customers take pictures of each other with the food in front of them or as they are eating the food. This takes on average another 4 minutes as they must review and sometimes retake the photo.

9 out of 45 customers sent their food back to reheat. Obviously if they didn't pause to do whatever on their phone the food wouldn't have gotten cold.

27 out of 45 customers asked their waiter to take a group photo. 14 of those requested the waiter retake the photo as they were not pleased with the first photo.

First of all, who are these customers?!

Sure, many people take pictures of their food. It's annoying enough that some restaurants have banned the process. But three minutes? That sounds like a bit much. Even people who are required to photograph their food because they might...I don't know...have to blog about it later -- even these people don't take an entire three minutes lighting and angling the dishes just so.

And who connects to Wi-Fi in a restaurant? Most smartphones have their own data plan that allows users to connect to the Internet regardless of nearby Wi-Fi.

The specificity and seemingly inflated results of the "study" have led many in the industry to question its validity. In an article by Slate, the general manager of TAO Downtown in Chelsea says that photos posted to social media don't increase dining time by any noticeable amount, and that they're good publicity for the restaurant.

Slate and other publications that have written about the post posit that it's a valid complaint that's been given weight with made-up statistics. That may be so, but local restaurateur Joshua Martinez agrees that it's an issue.

"I'm the problem too when I go out," he says, acknowledging that it's not just people outside the restaurant industry who are the culprits. "I am making an effort to leave my phone in the car if I go to dinner."

"Notice around you and see how many people are on their phones not paying attention to servers or even their guests at the table," he continued after some arguing that the problem isn't really that bad.

Martinez admits that it can be annoying for servers to wait to take orders when several people at a table are on their phones, but it's just as annoying for the other people at the table.

Could that be what prompted the Craigslist rant? Not a restaurateur, but a person who desperately wants his friends to put down the phones and talk to him?

Hard to say. But next time you're out, take note of how much time you spend on the phone. Then put it away and enjoy dessert without any Valencia filters or thoughts of re-tweets.

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Kaitlin Steinberg