smartphone shot food photo - pancakes with fresh strawberries
smartphone shot food photo - pancakes with fresh strawberries (Thinkstock, The Denver Post)

Your smartphone is the scourge of restaurants.

Customers snapping photos of food and dawdling on Facebook at meals have slowed table service by an hour over the last 10 years, an anonymous post on Craigslist's "rants & raves" section recently claimed.

The writer claimed that his New York restaurant, located in Manhattan's Midtown East and serving "both locals and tourists," had studied security footage from July 2004 and compared it with a tape of a recent Thursday this month. The takeaway: Today's technologically distracted diners take longer to order, longer to eat and longer to pay — and then they blame the restaurant for the wait!

"We are grateful for everyone who comes into our restaurant," the aggrieved restaurateur wrote, "but can you please be a bit more considerate?"

In almost no time, the indignant and now deleted Craigslist screed set the Internet alight. A post on Distractify transcribing the entire complaint quickly racked up more than 750,000 shares and 2,600 comments.

"Smartphone use in restaurants prompts Craigslist rant," announced the BBC. "Cellphones slowing down service in restaurants. Wait times have doubled because customers are too busy with their screens," blared the Daily Mail. "Why you should (really, seriously, permanently) stop using your smartphone at dinner," proclaimed The Washington Post.


Tempting as it can be to take anonymous, unsubstantiated Craigslist rants at face value, we decided to do a little digging on this one. Let's take a closer look at some of the specific claims made by the Craigslist post about customers in 2014:

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. Fourteen of those asked the waiter to retake the photo when they were not pleased with the first photo. On average this entire process, added another 5 minutes and obviously caused the waiter not to be able to take care of other tables.

Three minutes to take photos of food? That's a long time to take a snapshot or two. So is four minutes to take and review photos, all while a presumably hot and delicious meal is sitting in front of you.

"I think this is clearly a fake — the whole scenario is made up," says Luke O'Neil, a food-industry writer for publications including Slate who spent more than 10 years working in the restaurant business. "It seems like one of these things that's designed to make a point."

Smartphones have undoubtedly become a hot-button issue for the restaurant world in recent years. But is cellphone use really causing massive disruptions to restaurant service?

"I haven't noticed that," says Patrick Duxbury, general manager at TAO Downtown in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood. "We service well over 600, 700, 800 diners a night — and I don't necessarily think we'd be able to do that if smartphones were in our way."

As a common venue for celebratory dinners, birthdays and bachelorette parties, TAO Downtown does take lot of photos, Duxbury says, but that's "absolutely not" bad for the restaurant. "Those pictures go up on social media, some of them instantly on Instagram and Facebook, and it gets us out there," he says.

Others echo this sentiment. John Kapetanos, owner of Ethos in Manhattan's Midtown East — the same neighborhood as the Craigslist poster — says maybe 10 percent of his customers ask the waiter to take a group photo; it takes less than a minute and doesn't slow down service.

Kapetanos says cellphones have added five to 10 minutes to the average table time, but that he doesn't mind as long as diners aren't bothering others. A waiter at a French restaurant in Midtown who declined to give his name, concurs.

He adds that smartphones can even be helpful when dealing with foreign tourists. "It's easier for them to go on the website or on Yelp, and they can show you a picture and say, 'This is what I want,' " he explains.