In yesterday's Dear Prudence column in Slate, the online advice columnist is asked a dining question. “How do you have a group dinner, with conversation, when some still have their phones on and are checking texts and e-mails?” Prudence, or rather Emily Yoffe, who writes for Washingtonpost.com every week, replies:
“You could pull out your own phone and start texting people at the table. It is astounding that most of the population now thinks it socially acceptable to sit at dinner with people and ignore them in favor of more important texts from their other acquaintances about what they're having for dinner and who they're at the table ignoring. If this is strictly a social event, you can say in as lighthearted a way as possible, 'Can we make this a text-free evening?' If that doesn't work, if you're speaking to someone who is busy exchanging messages, stop your conversation and say, 'Oh, I see you're busy. I'll hold my thought until you're done.'”
Advice columnists are so testy. What happens when you're dining with food writers or bloggers? Used to be they just took clandestine notes, scribbling discretely into their napkins, about this amuse bouche or that apéritif. Now not only do they sometimes blog from the table–or perhaps the restaurant's bathroom, if the restaurant has recently opened–but they often tweet throughout the meal, take pictures of their food, and then, whenever possible, tweeting those pictures. We're way beyond taking phone calls.
The whole procedure can take on comic proportions if you have a group of people all doing this simultaneously; if people are “live-tweeting” the meal itself (a very amusing, ridiculously clinical term); if the chefs participate, stopping by for pictures or tweeting themselves; or if the staff, conversely, gets upset and tries to make you put your toys away and actually focus on the food. And then of course there is the etiquette of who posts first, which I've found can be very dicey, especially if it's a new restaurant. Perhaps among the items that chefs can buy from restaurant supply companies, along with immersion circulators and dehydrating machines, there will become available special electronic jamming devices made for this purpose. Imagine the food we would eat.