The Unspoken Etiquette For Where To Place Your Phone At The Dinner Table

Unless you are sitting at a bar alone or a toddler in need of distraction, using a cell phone at dinner is a big no-no, yet we've all been disturbed by someone who thinks the rules don't apply to them or, worse, been that person ourselves. Although cell phone etiquette may seem obvious to most, without realizing it, these devices (that are always in our hands) often end up on the dinner table, and while your intention may be to ignore it, phones distract us from enjoying our dining companions and inevitably annoy those around us. 

Just as you were told to keep your elbows off the table as a kid, modern etiquette dictates that cell phones don't belong there, either. As Myka Meier, founder of Beaumont Etiquette at The Plaza Hotel in New York City, said in the caption of an Instagram video: "If it's not a part of the meal, then it doesn't go [on the table]." That includes your purse, wallet, umbrella, and sunglasses too. Not only is it considered rude, but it can also be unsanitary. 

While texting at a bustling coffee shop where you've set up camp to work for the day may be appropriate, leaving your cell phone (on silent) in your purse, pants, or jacket when dining in more formal restaurants is best. However, before all the new parents revolt, naturally, there are exceptions to this rule.

Exceptions to the no cell phone rule

You don't need to be a doctor to be "on-call" occasionally when dining out. Life is messy, and legitimate scenarios exist when we must be easily accessible, even when dining in the fanciest establishments. If you're nervous about your new teen driver taking the car out, having a sick kid at home, or waiting for an urgent call, silence your phone or put it on vibrate and let your dining companions know why you're keeping it out.

If you receive a call, please don't answer the phone at the table. It's rude to the other people at your table and annoying to everyone else in the restaurant. Instead, excuse yourself from the table and answer the phone outside. If the call isn't necessary, then let it go to voicemail and return it when you are free.

Short of someone requiring medical attention, no situation warrants making a call from the table. While dining, etiquette dictates that you should excuse yourself from the table and place the call outside. And please, avoid using speakerphone, even on the street. No one wants to be a part of your private conversation, not even a passerby.

It undermines enjoyment and personal interactions

While it can be a more casual environment, this etiquette rule also applies to being a dinner guest at someone's home. Show the host and fellow guests that you value their time by being present and avoiding all outside distractions. A 2018 study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that participants who kept their cell phones on the table while dining were more distracted, less socially engaged, and reported less enjoyment from the experience, than those who put them away — in fact, having phones accessible led to diners using them for 11% of the time during the meal.

Although it hasn't been proven medically, using a cell phone in public seems contagious. Just because our kids like to point out that someone else is doing it doesn't mean we should follow suit. Instead, model good etiquette, and put away your phone when dining or in other "no-talking" zones (like the nail salon) where people are relaxing and enjoying themselves. Instead, connect with those around you.

Hearing the term "etiquette" may sound stuffy and outdated, but instead of thinking of it as a list of things you can't do, remember that it's about being considerate to those around you. No one dreams of being the couple not speaking and on their phones at the table next to you, but as we become more addicted to our cell phones, it can happen to any one of us if we're not mindful.