I take pride in being a good dining companion.
But, I also have one of those damn iPhones.
I know, right?
I’m hear to say that it’s okay to put it away when you eat your food.
Let me start by saying, a lot of my job is built on the philosophy of hospitality. Meaning, we work hard and run and cook your food, and you pay us for it. There is so much more, though.
There are times when I get to peak out of the pass to see tables full of people with their heads down scrolling through their phones, seemingly wishing to be anywhere but there. They eat their food without talking, and they go back to work or home. Most likely, they will get back on their phones at their final destination. Regardless, they are paying attention to the wrong things.
I should also say that I am one of these people, quite often. Head down. Thumb mindlessly tapping and swiping. The peripheral is a blurry horizon but at least I have checked and I have no new emails, and that burst of joy from someone liking my Instagram picture has faded. These past few months, I have been solidly working on NOT checking my phone at every urge just because I can. The idea is that we’re missing out on something that we should know about.
There’s something so discouraging about sitting at a table full of people with their phones. That in turn makes me pull out my phone because I’m left staring at a wall. When you disconnect yourself from people, they feel it. Well, I feel it. If you need to take a call or get back to someone because it is important, be intentional with your companions.
I’ve gotten into the habit of checking my phone any time I am by myself. I am reminded of the Louis C.K. bit about being afraid of being alone with your emotions.
While there is that, I want to take this space to talk about its form in the dining world.
As a person who cooks all day for other people, and who occasionally finds himself sitting at a table with good folk, I encourage you to keep your phones tucked away for a while.
I realize, we live in a world where things can change so fast. We want to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
We want to see and know everything but we also want that distance that keeps us safe.
So, I think, people aren’t very safe. We are unruly and unexpected and we say things without the proper space to react. We rejoice in awkwardness because it is our generations new form of humor. We are afraid of being awkward people, and phones are making us even more awkward people.
All of this, is coming from an introvert who really loves the space of text communicating with people. But just because I recharge away from people, doesn’t mean I am shy to speak to another person. It also doesn’t mean that I am socially awkward. I actually think I’ve grown a lot these past few years by putting myself out there, only to realize that we are all the same wobbly boat, just trying to figure some shit out.
Am I right?
Being in the restaurant biz has helped loads, as well. You get the opportunity to speak to and meet new kinds of people all the time. It becomes second nature to absorb people’s words and attitudes. Separating yourself from that can take some time to figure out.
Take a couple of lessons from the guys at restaurant Joe Beef up in Montreal:
Come prepared with some good stories. Nothing too long, because you know our attention spans are maybe ten seconds long.
Don’t over do it with the alcohol. When you become a liability, folks have to start looking out for you. Save the spins for home, that way you have the comforts of your own toilet to pass out next to.
Eye contact. And I am the worst, but I’m working on it. When people are talking to you, look at them. Affirm their words, even if you don’t agree. When talking back, try your best to make eye contact again. If that’s too much for the first bit, stare in between their forehead. Hey, I hear that works.
Eating is one of the only things that we separate from our usual days of work and hustle and sleep. It is when we sit down to feed ourselves. Eating alone is OKAY. I promise. Instead of your phone, maybe read a book, or sit outside on the steps and get some fresh air.
If you want to play a fun game with your friends, place all your phones stacked in the middle of a the table. The first to reach, has to pay the tab. That’ll show em’!
But for real, y’all.
Let’s work on being better companions. With dining, and with our relationships. I promise, we are worth our weight and it’s always such a joy to discover another person again and again.
(ps. and here’s some Jungleland, if you wanted to hear it.)