Social Media Is Restaurant's Nightmare Customer
July 26, 2014

Social Media Is Restaurant’s Nightmare Customer

As I have been discussing recently, despite the ever growing success of Facebook, a good number of people are expressing, and in many cases acting on, the desire to leave the service altogether. Although Facebook is the flagship for social media, there is also broader talk about how over-use of social media in general may be damaging in several respects, and the same may apply even to smartphones and excessive online activity.

Now, I read about the case of a restaurant in New York who after extensive research found that people using their smartphones during dining is adversely affecting both the restaurant’s service and the dining experience of other customers. Despite suggesting that if people think social media is having a negative impact on themselves, then maybe just moderate their use instead of eternally condemning it, I am now forced to consider the impact that excessive social media has on other people, even those who may not use it much and are affected by it in the “real world.”

One reason a friend gave for leaving Facebook was that he was tired of going to parties and other gatherings and having the fun of them ruined by people constantly interrupting interesting conversations or poignant moments by insisting on photos that are primarily intended to be shared on social media. Leaving Facebook wouldn’t stop this sad state of affairs, but at least he could make a statement.

A similar problem exists in the New York restaurant situation. The establishment wondered why, when tables are always full, their turnover was around the same as in 2004, and why when they have fewer menu items and more staff, their service time is slower. Following many complaints about slow service, they used CCTV from 2004 and from the present to study what was happening differently, and found that it is mobile devices that are profoundly affecting what goes on in the dining room. In 2004, people took less time to order (eight minutes) than they do today (21 minutes). Even before orders have been placed, smartphones have established themselves as the nightmare customer, as people bump into other patrons while distracted by their device as they walk in. They then sit down, play on their phones instead of opening a menu, ask the waiter to help them connect to WiFi, and begin taking photos.

Once they finally order, there will be more photos, often including group ones that the waiter will take, using up time that could be spent on other customers. The research also found that many more dishes are being sent back today compared with 2004 with the complaint that they are cold. It doesn’t take much of an analytical mind to deduce that this may be because they were sitting there while photos were taken. A more abstract conclusion may be that many of us now feel we are little divas, following our small fame on social media and the glorification of our own lives, and so feel that we can be a bit snottier in restaurants.

In 2004, the average sitting in the restaurant was one hour and five minutes. Today, it is one hour and 55 minutes. Restaurant reputation down, diners’ experience worse, and still no-one cares about our photos of food on Facebook; they are too busy posting their own. I haven’t’ changed my mind and don’t believe quitting Facebook is necessary, but I may be persuaded that kindly requesting that smartphones not be used in some restaurants is a good idea.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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John is a freelance writer from the UK, currently living in Japan and thoroughly enjoying their food and whiskey. His first novel, Three Little Boys, and his travel book, Following Football, are currently available on

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