As a restaurateur I'm often asked how things have changed over the years as it relates to dining. While there are many aspects that I could highlight, there is one that stands out drastically and has nothing to do with food or drink specifically. Simply put, people go to dinner but are really not "at the dinner" or truly present for the short duration of their social engagement.
Pre-mobile phone era, we called each other "at home," made dinner plans (hey, let's meet 9pm next Friday), arrived at the restaurant (on time without an "I am on the way" text), and proceeded to engage in un-interrupted eating, drinking and conversation with friends. It's likely safe to say that anyone born post 1985 has no idea what I am talking about with the exception maybe, for a serious family occasion.
As cell phones became more accessible and service more consistent, this ritual became slightly diminished as people had the ability to jump on a quick call at the table, however, early on it was considered rude and not seen frequently. Fast forward to 2010. We are at a place today where text, email or instant messaging has essentially destroyed the art of "having dinner" with friends. Rarely do I see a table of five who all "remain present" at their dinner, in fact, it's nearly the same for tables of two. If you are bored with the one person you are with what does that say about your companion?
It somewhat goes like this: as soon as one feels the topic may not involve them what do they do? A quick email or text glance...did someone send me something in the last 2 minutes? Can I reply quickly under the table without much my table noticing? Do I even care? So a quick tap-tap-tap and I'm back "at the table" without anyone noticing I had left. After a few minutes it's the next person's turn and the cycle continues with everyone taking their turn "checking in" while their dinner experience is being broken up into bits and pieces without them really realizing the impact. It's not absurd to say some people may check or glance at their phone or Blackberry maybe ten to twenty times over the course of a long meal.
Try to remember what that was like, to really commit to having dinner, engaging your friends, and blocking out the outside world for two hours. It will never go back to the old ways but it's worth noticing the next time you are having dinner with friends. Can you stay at the table?
Test yourself tonight.