Having good manners is about making people around you feel comfortable, but not at the expense of practicality or safety. That’s why this question caught my eye:
“Where should a phone be placed on a table, left of the plate or right?”
It’s a question that popped up on Quora, one of our favorite places to answer questions about Modern Manners for Moms and Dads, especially since sometimes we’re forced to inject a little bit of realism into a conversation about traditional etiquette. For example, this response:
“The phone should be OFF and in your pocket, coat, or handbag. It should NEVER be on the table unless you are waiting to hear from the transplant team that your new liver, heart, or kidney are in. OR, you’re the surgeon, and are being notified that your patient’s organ is arriving. Shy those circumstances, NO phone on the table. Ever.”
Huh. Yeah, that’s not exactly the way we think about this issue.
As a mother of young kids, if I’m out at a restaurant, it probably means my kids are in the care of someone else, and I need to be available in case of an emergency. So my phone is always on the table.
Here are my thoughts on how to leave your phone on the table while still being respectful of everyone else:
- Place the phone in the center of the table, not to the right or left of your plate, but above it. That way, it’s not interfering with utensils, plates, glasses, etc. This part of the table, where the bread basket might go, is communal property.
- Turn down the volume. If your phone is sitting right in front of you, chances are you’re going to hear the ringer, even at the lowest volume.
- Keep the phone face down so you and other won’t be distracted by notifications popping up on the screen.
- If you’ve got a phone that’s constantly buzzing and beeping, check to see if it has a Do Not Disturb feature. This allows you to keep your phone quiet (no calls, no texts, no notifications) with a couple of exceptions: you can choose to allow calls and messages from particular individuals to come through (say, your babysitter), or you can choose to allow a call to come through if someone has contacted you twice in a 3-minute period (like they would in an emergency).
In truly formal settings, I’ve set my phone to vibrate instead of ring and hidden it in my lap, under my napkin. You just don’t want to give people the wrong impression with that trick! ;)
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