≡ Menu

Big Screens, Little Screens

I was recently out to lunch with my husband and in-laws. We sat on the porch outside. The porch was slightly crowded.

The people at the table behind me spent at least ten minutes watching videos on their cell phones at a volume clearly heard by all on the porch. I thought the sound of the videos were annoying. For some reason, the thing I found most distracting was the applause and laughter I could hear on the video, not the people talking.

My immediate feeling was that it was poor etiquette to watch videos at the table in a public restaurant. However, on thinking about it, I wondered if I could be justified in that thought. Was it really any worse than the noise of typical mealtime conversations? Maybe a little louder, I guess.

I’d be interested to know what you think. 0613-13

The more restaurants my hubby and I frequent, the more I notice how many TVs these establishments have turned on to news, sports, or sitcoms.   It appears that the concept of a quiet dinner with pleasant music in the background has given way to diners needing to multitask while they eat.   Chow down, talk with your dining partner(s) and glance up at any one (or all) of the nine TVs mounted near the ceiling.

Cell phones/smart phones are no different, in my opinion, than scads of TV screens around the dining room with the exception of size.   TVs appear to be a common commodity in public dining venues and cell phones are not going to be going anywhere.   I don’t own a smart phone but it is not unusual for one of my children to pull theirs out and find a Youtube video that emphasizes the point he/she has been making in the discussion.  So we sit there and watch and the conversation continues.   It’s not much different than staring at the TV screen and going back to discussing what you just saw on the screen.

So, in other words, chill.

{ 58 comments… add one }
  • Green123 June 21, 2013, 2:27 am

    I thought the readers of this thread might like this article on Buzzfeed:



  • Kate June 21, 2013, 3:59 am

    @LawGeek, my fiance and I are the same – he usually plays games on his phone and I read magazines or the paper while we’re out, unless it’s a fancy dinner. FI has quite bad social anxiety and he gets really uncomfortable having a conversation in public. We talk all the time while we’re alone so I don’t think it’s rude.

  • Michele Newell June 21, 2013, 8:36 am

    Whatever happened to the days where people would refuse to answer the phone during dinner hour?

    In my opinion, watching a video is way worse than someone “just” talking on the phone. It’s hard to “just chill” when a majority of smartphones have the speakers on the back of the device. That little design quirk makes the people around you hear your video just as clearly, if not more so, than you.

    I liken (audible) smartphone use in restaurants to smoking: it pollutes the restaurant’s atmosphere and will usually bother the neighboring tables. If you need to do it, take it outdoors to be polite to your fellow diners. I bet those videos wouldn’t seem as important or interesting if you had to stand up and head outside to view them.

  • Brian June 21, 2013, 7:46 pm

    I disagree with the admin. If you are going to an establishment that has televisions for entertainment, you are aware of that situation immediately upon getting your seat. Most hosts are even happy with changing the channel if no one else seems to be using that particular TV. However, having someone pull up a video on their phone is extremely annoying and usually not something you can anticipate when being offered your seats.

    Many people above me have already said it depends on the venue. Honestly, I don’t care if I am at McDonald’s and someone pulls out a loud obnoxious cell phone next to me.. I’m going to be peeved off.

  • NicoleK June 22, 2013, 3:38 pm

    Can’t say I’ve ever seen a TV in any restaurant I’ve been to in the past few years… I’d say go to a different restaurant.

  • E June 24, 2013, 5:12 am

    I disagree. I believe it is rude to watch videos on your phone. You are there to enjoy the company of the people you are with. No watch videos. If that were to occur while I was out, I’d politely ask them to turn down the volume. I also would never ever go to a restaurant with tv’s set up. It distracts from spending time with the people you are out with. I don’t need sports, or news, or sit coms as a back drop.

  • Anonymous June 27, 2013, 1:31 pm

    Another thing–not quite an etiquette issue, but does anyone else here think that portable Internet devices might be making people more impatient, and less able to entertain themselves, make conversation, or just deal with being bored while waiting for a spectator event to begin, for a bus to arrive, or for a restaurant meal to be served? Parents tend to pack small toys/books/diversions for their young children when going someplace where there’s likely to be some waiting involved, but with the advent of portable Internet on smartphones, people don’t have as much of a chance to move past that stage of life, of needing some form of entertainment constantly at their fingertips. Now, I know that for some people, a smartphone isn’t just “entertainment,” it’s a valuable tool–they use it to, say, catch up on their e-mails at the park, or plan their menus for the week at the grocery store, or shop or pay bills online while waiting for their kid’s turn at the gymnastics meet, (and then they can also use the “camcorder” function of the phone to film said kid’s turn), but sometimes too much multi-tasking isn’t a good thing.

    For example, I had a professor at one point who, on the first day of her class, announced that she was very easy to reach, because she kept her laptop in her bedroom, and her Blackberry on her person pretty much 24/7, minus shower time. She meant it in a good way, because she wanted us to know that she was available, but she came off as being a stressed-out mess, and the middle-aged woman sitting next to me in class that day said so–she whispered to me, so the prof couldn’t hear it, but I still think she was right. Another thing–I think that these devices also kind of blur the outlines of life.

    So, if people think they can watch videos on their own personal devices in a restaurant, they also find it acceptable to bring a bag of McDonald’s into a movie theatre, or text with Sam on the smartphone while visiting in real-time with Sarah at Starbucks. I’m not saying that all smartphones are bad, all the time, but they have a tendency to influence people to try to fill every spare pocket of every day with Something (whether that Something is a necessary task, or just for fun, or somewhere in the middle), change plans on the fly (“Oh, John won’t mind that I can’t come to Ultimate Frisbee practice this evening; I’ll just text him”). Also, being constantly glued to a smartphone can make it more difficult to experience just one thing at a time. I liken this phenomenon to art time in preschool, when the kids try to make rainbow paint by mixing all the colours together, and it just turns brown. By trying to shop, surf, chat, and Facebook while going about the various activities of your life, it kind of turns life from being a variety of meaningful experiences, to just being a drab, brown blur of multi-tasking.

    I know that these fundamental problems existed before smartphones, to a certain extent, but smartphones pack the potential for ALL of these issues into a nice, neat little package that fits in the palm of your hand. I think that’s why most people either love them, hate them, or both.

  • Kristi August 4, 2013, 6:45 am

    In my 40 years I have never ever been to a restaurant with TVs in them. A pub yes but a restaurant? How awful! I think it is incredibly rude watching videos or listening to music on your phone or tablet at a restaurant. The sound accosts everybody in the vicinity and is very annoying, particularly because they make that ‘tinny’ noise. My sister started to show my Dad a clip on her phone last week when we were at a cafe and I asked her to stop as it was so rude and I could tell it was annoying the lady next to her us who was trying to enjoy her coffee as she read a book. There really have to be limits set with smartphone use, it’s getting ridiculous. I love mine and use it a lot but not when I am in company.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.