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When is it okay to text at the table?


Recently, I had a business meeting over breakfast. One of the participants was texting while the rest of us were engaged in conversation. It offended me -- a lot! I wanted this person to be part of the conversation and I felt like even though she was present, she wasn't really there.

That brings me to the question: when is texting at the table okay?

Is it less acceptable if you are a service provider? Is it more acceptable if you are a CEO? Is it more acceptable if there are more than two people at the table.

I asked my husband, a financial executive at his company, whether he feels it's rude and unprofessional if he's on a business lunch and someone in the group, possibly an overworked attorney, is answering email or texting at the table. My husband told me when that happens, and is has happened, he tries to end the lunch as soon as possible. Even if there's a group, he believes it's not okay.

Not long ago, I would go to lunch with my boss and she would be on her BlackBerry during our lunch, clacking on the keyboard a few times during the meal. For some reason, that didn't offend me. I knew she was an editor in the news business and news happens all the time. I gave her a pass.

Now, I'm starting to rethink whether I should give anyone a pass. If you're outside the office, having lunch or some other meal, can't you disconnect for an hour? Is anyone that important that an hour would make a huge difference? Are we giving too many passes and enabling people to become smart phone addicts by not speaking up?

You might want to think about the message you are sending to your dining companions when you text at the table, even if you aren't part of the direct conversation. Without you realizing it, everyone at the table is judging your manners. 

As a mom, I always have one eye on my cellphone. Over the years, I've received a call or text message when one of my kids are sick and need to be picked up from school. Does being a mom make it okay to text at the table while I'm dining for business? Actually, I don't think being a working mom gets you a pass.  Even a mom with a sick child should excuse herself and go outside to take the call or respond to the text.

Saturday night I was out with friends and my daughter sent me a text about needing a ride home. I texted her back. While doing that, I realized how rude I was being. I didn't like it when it had been done to me. I've decided it's not okay to text or take calls at the table, even during a social meal. The New York Times tackled the topic in an article, Play With Your Food, Don't Just Text.  San Francisco Chronicle critic Michael Bauer says he has no patience for people who text while they eat.

What do you think about texting at the table? Do you think there's a scenario when it's okay? Has texting at the table ever cost you business?