Restaurant finds distracted cellphone users slow down service

There’s no arguing that cellphones can be distracting—in cars, on streets, and even at movies and concerts. How many times have you nearly been knocked over by a pedestrian too engaged with their cellphone screen to look up? And what about that person in front of you at a concert who spends more time trying to Instagram and share photos of the band than simply enjoying the experience?

Restaurants and the people who work in them suffer the same fate. Some would argue that because of the rise of amateur food photography, the use of cellphones in restaurants is even worse.

So when one long-running New York City restaurant received multiple complaints about slow service, it decided to investigate customer behaviour by watching restaurant surveillance videos. Forty-five table transactions between diners and front-of-house staff were reviewed from 2004 and 45 from 2014 to see if service had indeed slowed down.

It turned out that customers are actually the ones to blame—particularly those who use cellphones.

The anonymous restaurant decided to publish its findings in a post that has since been flagged for removal on the “Rants & Raves” section of Manhattan’s Craigslist website. The restaurant noted that on average, diners required 13 more minutes to order their meals in 2014 compared to 2004. According to surveillance video, customers spent most of this time using their phones.

Another interesting observation that wasn't an issue in 2004 was that 26 out of 45 customers spent an average of three minutes taking photos of their food when it arrived at the table. Then, nine of these customers requested that their food be reheated in the kitchen, as it had gone cold during the photography session.

When diners were finished eating their meals, it took, on average, 15 minutes longer in 2014 to pay the bill and leave than it did a decade ago. The average time it takes to turn over a table at this restaurant these days is an hour and 55 minutes—about 50 minutes longer than it took customers to dine in 2004.

The anonymous restaurant ended the post by saying, “We are grateful for everyone who comes into our restaurant, after all there are so many choices out there. But can you please be a bit more considerate?”

This seems to be a common sentiment at a number of restaurants across North America. In Vancouver, Score on Davie introduced lock boxes for cellphones this spring. The popular restaurant and bar suggested that customers dining in groups lock up their phones upon arrival, and if someone requested their phone before the group was ready to leave, they were required to buy the group a round of shots.

“Sometimes, the only 'social network' you need is the people in front of you,” Score on Davie stated on its Facebook page.

At the Los Angeles-based Eva restaurant, diners who check their cellphones at the door receive a five percent discount on their dining bill. A number of restaurateurs and chefs in France have also suggested a ban on camera phones and amateur food photography at their high-end restaurants.

Should diners' cellphone use be restricted inside restaurants? Have you been the victim of a distracted cellphone user? Have your say—heck, feel free to rant and rave—in the comments below.

Meanwhile, read the entire transcript from the New York restaurant, sourced from Distractify, below.

One of the most common complaints on review sites against us and many restaurants in the area is that the service was slow and/or they needed to wait a bit long for a table.

We decided to hire a firm to help us solve this mystery, and naturally the first thing they blamed it on was that the employees need more training and that maybe the kitchen staff is just not up to the task of serving that many customers.

Like most restaurants in NYC we have a surveillance system, and unlike today where it's a digital system, 10 years ago we still used special high capacity tapes to record all activity. At any given time we had 4 special Sony systems recording multiple cameras. We would store the footage for 90 days just in case we needed it for something.

The firm we hired suggested we locate some of the older tapes and analyze how the staff behaved 10 years ago versus how they behave now. We went down to our storage room but we couldn't find any tapes at all.

We did find the recording devices, and luckily for us, each device has 1 tape in it that we simply never removed when we upgraded to the new digital system!

The date stamp on the old footage was Thursday July 1, 2004. The restaurant was very busy that day. We loaded up the footage on a large monitor, and next to it on a separate monitor loaded up the footage of Thursday July 3 2014, with roughly the same amount of customers as ten years before.

I will quickly outline the findings. We carefully looked at over 45 transactions in order to determine the data below:


Customers walk in.

They gets seated and are given menus, out of 45 customers 3 request to be seated elsewhere.

Customers on average spend 8 minutes before closing the menu to show they are ready to order.

Waiters shows up almost instantly takes the order.

Appetizers are fired within 6 minutes, obviously the more complex items take longer.

Out of 45 customers 2 sent items back.

Waiters keep an eye out for their tables so they can respond quickly if the customer needs something.

After guests are done, the check delivered, and within 5 minutes they leave.

Average time from start to finish: 1:05



Customers walk in.

Customers get seated and is given menus, out of 45 customers 18 requested to be seated elsewhere.

Before even opening the menu they take their phones out, some are taking photos while others are simply doing something else on their phone (sorry we have no clue what they are doing and do not monitor customer WIFI activity).

7 out of the 45 customers had waiters come over right away, they showed them something on their phone and spent an average of 5 minutes of the waiter's time. Given this is recent footage, we asked the waiters about this and they explained those customers had a problem connecting to the WIFI and demanded the waiters try to help them.

Finally the waiters are walking over to the table to see what the customers would like to order. The majority have not even opened the menu and ask the waiter to wait a bit.

Customer opens the menu, places their hands holding their phones on top of it and continue doing whatever on their phone.

Waiter returns to see if they are ready to order or have any questions. The customer asks for more time.

Finally they are ready to order.

Total average time from when the customer was seated until they placed their order 21 minutes.

Food starts getting delivered within 6 minutes, obviously the more complex items take way longer.

26 out of 45 customers spend an average of 3 minutes taking photos of the food.

14 out of 45 customers take pictures of each other with the food in front of them or as they are eating the food. This takes on average another 4 minutes as they must review and sometimes retake the photo.

9 out of 45 customers sent their food back to reheat. Obviously if they didn't pause to do whatever on their phone the food wouldn't have gotten cold.

27 out of 45 customers asked their waiter to take a group photo. 14 of those requested the waiter retake the photo as they were not pleased with the first photo. On average this entire process between the chit chatting and reviewing the photo taken added another 5 minutes and obviously caused the waiter not to be able to take care of other tables he/she was serving.

Given in most cases the customers are constantly busy on their phones it took an average of 20 minutes more from when they were done eating until they requested a check. Furthermore once the check was delivered it took 15 minutes longer than 10 years ago for them to pay and leave.

8 out of 45 customers bumped into other customers or in one case a waiter (texting while walking) as they were either walking in or out of the Restaurant.

Average time from start to finish: 1:55

We are grateful for everyone who comes into our restaurant, after all there are so many choices out there. But can you please be a bit more considerate? 

Comments (4) Add New Comment
Yup. No news here... but nice to have someone with proof of what I've been saying for a while now. If I'm at a restaurant with friends (pubs/bars get a reluctant pass) then I demand everyone shut off and put their phones in the centre of the table. The first person to reach for theirs pays everyone's bill. This has been met with either threats of violence or tears or both. Ever since I've got 2 free meals and 1 black eye so I'm ahead of the game... so far.
Rating: -6
Yup too.
Not only does it take longer for popular restaurants to free up tables but now you can wait even if you have a reservation due to the back up.

What's wrong with enjoying the company of the people you're with & the skills of the servers and chefs and turning off the phone or leaving it in a lock box?

BTW-no one is that interested in what you're eating......
Rating: -5
Geoffrey Mason
I'm not saying that this is a fictional Readers Digest type homily posted on Craigslist about the horrors of cellphones, but yeah -- actually I am saying that.

If this WERE actual data, I would probably be worrying much more about this than cellphones:

"They gets seated and are given menus, out of 45 customers 3 request to be seated elsewhere."


"Customers get seated and is given menus, out of 45 customers 18 requested to be seated elsewhere."

600% more people want to be seated elsewhere. Why?

Too many red flags in this Craigslist post to be "results of analysis," but rather general advocacy against cellphone use in public.
Rating: 0
The large increase of people asking to be seated elsewhere sure is kind of strange...

I think the "lock box" is a bad idea, though. Or being obligated to turn your cellphone off. You should be able to pick up your phone at any time in case of an emergency or whatever. People should be able to reach you at all times. But honestly, if you're going out for a nice dinner, stop caring about your dumb facebook for just one little hour and enjoy actual real life for once -_-
Rating: +2
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