Friday, 19 September 2014

Where Have Our Table Manners Gone?

The other day, the hubs and I decided to pop out to our local pub for something to eat together. It wasn't a particularly romantic occasion - we just fancied getting out of the house. And we were hungry. Our expectations weren't high. 

We bought ourselves a drink, ordered our lunch and took a table for two across from the bar. 

Two children - about two or three years old - were playing chase, about 2 metres away from us, around and underneath the other tables. Unfortunately for the servers, this was right in the way of where they deliver the food from the kitchen to the restaurant. They stepped over the giggling children, juggling with sizzling hot platters and stacked burgers. The two women with the kids said nothing, one even giving one of the staff a sideways glare for finally asking the children (very nicely) to move out of the way. 

And I thought to myself: "Crikey. My mum would have taken us outside and given us a right telling off if we'd done that. What happened?" 

When I go to restaurants, I look around and I see more of this. Customers raising their voices, getting angry with their server. Requesting outright that dishes be completely reconstructed to cater for their dietary requirements. Children playing in restaurants like it's the local park, while the parents eat quietly alone, at a table strewn with pasta, crushed breadsticks and rice. 

And it's not just me. The industry has seen a sharp rise in this so-called 'inconsiderate behaviour' over the last few years. 

One restaurant in New York compared tapes of their restaurant from 2004 and 2014 and discovered that 2014 diners took much longer to eat after wasting their time on mobile phones, having group photos taken and asking to be reseated. There are doubts as to the authenticity of this (are people really taking four minutes to take pictures of food for social media?) but I suppose what they're doing is capturing memories. 

Rudeness to the staff is another thing. One LA chef and restaurant owner proposed that "everyone should work in the service industry for at least one year. Then they’ll think twice about the next time they scream at the barista or the person behind the counter." I'm not sure forcing people to work in the restaurant industry - like a sort of foodie version of National Service - would work, but having worked for years in that industry it does make me more aware of my behaviour and the behaviour of my group when I do go out. I know that, once I've seated you all, if you're all having a laugh and still haven't decided what you want to eat after 25 minutes, that could be annoying. The chef here recognised that only a minority of customers were to blame, but complained that some thought they knew the food better than the chef and were caught swearing at the servers. I'm sad to say, I have seen that happen as well. 

And finally, research conducted by dating site Match.com found that people severely reduce their chance of Date Number Two if they eat noisily, update social media or take photographs of their dinners on a first date.

So what happened? Social media is, as I know only too well, very tempting. But how about taking a shot on your phone in 3-4 seconds and then putting it away, adding filters, cropping and uploading it to Instagram later? A few months ago, we decided to treat the girls to a meal out. We sat, waiting for the food to arrive, and I quickly decided to check my email. I looked up from my phone and saw my husband scrolling through his Facebook and the children staring blankly into space. We have a new rule: phones on silent and away while we go out to eat together. Now, we TALK while we wait for our meals to arrive. 

Eating at restaurants should be fun - but let's make it fun for everyone - no swearing, no shouting. Only limited mobile phone use - take a quick pic of your dinner if it's appropriate - but then put it away. And I'd suggest not doing it at all on a date, anniversary or special meal. Put your phones away. Smile at the staff. Enjoy the food, and look into the eyes of your dining companion as they talk to you over their rib-eye and chips. THAT'S how memories are made. 

What do you reckon? Are our table manners getting worse? Is social media to blame? 

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