Pet Peeve: Line Cooks on Cell Phones

As if restaurant bartenders slamming shots weren't bad enough, how’s this: line cooks in open kitchens handling their cell phones as much as they handle their tongs.

A badly trained cook's smartphone dedication is a phenomenon of the modern restaurant I encountered one night last year, seated at the sushi bar–like counter of a Berkeley seafood place. I got there at the closing end of the prime-time dinner rush, though still a long time before closing. But while I was hoping to see some cooking action from my stool perch, soon I realized that all the action that night was on Twitter, Facebook, or OkCupid—on the sous-chef’s phone.

Instead of tidying his station in the lull, or engaging with me, or even disappearing into the prep kitchen to take a break, the sous-chef just stood there on the line, scrolling and tap-typing his phone, waiting for the next ticket to drop from the POS console.

The cooks he was supposed to be the leader of were clowning with the dish runner. I was seated expecting to see some action, but the open cook line was as dead as a dropped call. No cook made contact with me, not even for a brief eye-lock and a head-nod. This was very annoying.

Just like bar staff taking their attention off their work to focus on drinking, cooks absorbed in smartphones aren’t available to the diners who ensure they can pay for phone service at all. If you're stuck in a walled-off kitchen somewhere, you can do all kinds of things that ignore customers. But if I'm essentially sitting in your kitchen, I want things from you—like being able to ask you about the mussels I’m eating, or if the arctic winter has affected the northeast shellfish harvest, or, hell, even what I should order as my next course. If you're busy scrolling through your cousin’s Vegas pool party pics, you probably aren't going to notice me. Don't make me struggle to get your attention.

Second, to have food handlers touching their phones during service is really, really unsanitary. Cell phones go everywhere with us: shopping, dog-walking, the bus, and yeah, even the bathroom. They’re mobile carriers of disease, cell phones, hard to clean and disinfect.

As for me, the neglected diner, I probably would have had better luck interacting with the sous-chef if I’d texted. Maybe restaurants should print the staff’s cell phone numbers on menus? Let me tweet that and see if any chefs would be into it.

Read my other Pet Peeves:

Bartenders Drinking Shots

Servers Who Sneer at What You Want

Servers' Condescending "We"

What do you think about restaurant staff using cell phones where diners can see them? Sound off in the discussion box below.