Should I Bring My Cellphone With Me to the Table?

New rules for dining with phones for modern day hosts and guests

Every week, our resident experts Mindy Lockard and Coryanne Ettiene answer etiquette questions from modern day hosts, offering advice from both traditional and contemporary perspectives.

This week’s question:

I was recently at a party where everyone brought their cellphone with them to the dinner table. It caught me by surprise — with cellphones being so common, it is this OK? What about when you are dining with the family around the kitchen table?

Ettiene: Cellphones have become a given nowadays, and often cause people to forget to focus on who is in front of them, as they are more concerned about who might need to get ahold of them. Likewise, table manners are becoming more and more relaxed as our lives become more hectic. Twenty years ago, a women would never dream of reapplying lipstick at the table and now you see it frequently done at restaurants.

The same can be said for cellphones. I frown on taking calls while at dinner because, like with most things in life, I try to think of how I would feel if someone at the table were to take a call, and I would offer them the same courtesy that I would like to receive. That being said, I have been known to take a call while I am having coffee with my brother or, if it’s important, when I am with my close girlfriends — but I always carefully consider who I am with and how my actions may be perceived.

Lockard: Just as we wouldn't (or shouldn't) invite our entire Facebook entourage to dinner when dining with someone else, the same is true for not bringing them to the table by way of your phone. In today's fast-paced world, it's easy to forget that the people in our presence are always the most important. So leave your phone away from tempted fingers and the table.

The only time it’s okay to bring a phone to the dinner table is if you're expecting an emergency call. (Coordinating afternoon plans are not an emergency.) At that time, the phone should be left on vibrate and left on your lap. Putting a phone on the table next to you nonverbally communicates, "Although [the person in your presence] is important, something else or someone else more important might just come in... and I want to be prepared." It's a subconscious message that doesn't feel good on the receiving end, no matter who it is.

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