Thanks Frankie and Benny’s, but I already know how to behave when I eat out
December 7, 2018

Have you heard the news? Frankie and Benny’s has branched out into behavioural advice. As if the comedy creamy cocktails and deep-fried food wasn’t enough, the chain is now helping us with what’s right and wrong when it comes to how we behave when we go out to eat. 

In case you missed it, Frankie and Benny’s has seen fit to ban mobile phones from its restaurants. They are just coming to the end of the week-long ‘No Phone Zone’ trial where the great British dining public were heroically patronised by basically being told: ‘really, guys, you shouldn’t have your phone at the table’.

One parenting expert chimed in in support of the ban – which, by the way, involves diners handing over their phones so they can be stored in ‘shoebox-sized receptacles’ to make sure they don’t use them – saying: ‚ÄúParents are role models in everything that they do and in everything that they say, so by managing their own screen time parents are teaching their kids by example about when and where technology use is appropriate.”

The thing is, though, they’re not are they? 

‘Managing your own screen time’ is about knowing when it’s okay to whip your phone out and when you really should pop it back in your handbag. It’s about knowing that perhaps it might be okay to get your phone out to show your fellow diner a photo of your newborn baby, yet it’s probably not acceptable to sit scrolling through the latest news headlines while your starter’s going cold in front of you. 

I know some people might disagree, but these days it has become more socially acceptable to have your phone at the table. We’re the ‘Instagram generation’. We love capturing moments and sharing them online. So if you’ve saved up for a year to dine at a top-notch restaurant, it’s not the worst crime in the world to want to capture a quick snap of your beautifully-presented main course. Or take a quick pic with your husband when you’re on your anniversary meal out. 

Steak at Butcher's Social, Henley

Yes, perhaps spending the whole meal taking selfies rather than just enjoying the moment is kind of missing the point (I’ve ranted about this before..), or documenting a whole meal on Insta-stories rather than savouring the flavours a chef has lovingly created for your tastebuds, not your Twitter feed. 

But invoking some kind of black-and-white, binary rule of ‘no phones at the table’ just misses the point. I’m no parenting expert, but behaviour is rarely about rules. It’s about reading situations, understanding what’s acceptable, and realising what the tiny little differences are. By putting phones in shoeboxes on the table, are we really teaching children about the nuances of acceptable dining behaviour? I don’t think so. We’re just giving them another rule to follow that doesn’t take the complexities of social situations and behaviour into account. 

A friend of mine is a mum. Yes, she agrees that it doesn’t set a great example to constantly be on your phone at the dinner table. But a straightforward ‘ban’ doesn’t really account for all those little things that make up life – the two second work query to respond to, the emergency call from your mum. Is it so bad to educate children that sometimes that’s okay, but it’s not okay to sit on Candy Crush while you’re out as a family?

I know it doesn’t seem like a biggy, but it’s irked me. For two reasons. Firstly, this whole ‘rule’ thing that renders people utterly useless when it comes to reading situations and undertaking basic human interactions. If we’re teaching kids that they need to adhere to black-and-white rules like ‘no phones at the table, ever’ then how on earth are they going to navigate the complexities of life? 

And secondly, since when did a restaurant chain think it was their place to instruct us how to behave? If Frankie and Benny’s were saying, ‘d’you know what, we don’t want phones ringing in the restaurant so we’re banning them’ or ‘we’ve had four billion complaints about phones in the restaurant so we’re going with the majority and banning them’ then maybe it wouldn’t be quite so insulting.

But they’re not. They’re invoking some kind of patronising ‘we know what’s good for you even if you don’t yourselves’ attitude which is, if we’re honest, a marketing stunt designed to appeal to those who think it’s everyone else’s responsibility to control our behaviour, and then dressed up as some kind of responsible business attitude. 

Thanks guys, but how about you stick to trying to cook the food, and we’ll look after our table manners.

The top picture on this blog isn’t mine, it’s a stock picture. But I don’t know how to remove the watermark. So sorry.