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A Bartender’s Guide to Cell Phone Etiquette

Eddy Buckingham is the owner of New York cocktail den The Liberty and Kempt’s resident Fernet Branca expert. Periodically, he offers us wisdom gleaned from his years behind the bar.

Before it was cell phones, it was cigarettes.

I saw it for years from behind the bar. You’re out and about, your companion disappears for a split second, and you fire up a Camel. It’s a defense mechanism; smoking, you’re not a creep or a drunk staring mutely into your whiskey—you’re thoughtful, and aloof, maybe even a little mysterious.

Then along came Bloomberg, and the cigarette was relegated to the curb outside. In its place arose a more insidious behavioral crutch: the cell phone.

Walk into any bar in the country and you’ll see a crowd of would-be revelers tapping mutely at their illuminated crotches. (And I assure you, the most interesting action is not happening down there. If you’re lucky, that comes later.)

That’s why, just like you did with cigarettes your sophomore year of college, it’s time to quit. Herewith: a bartender’s guide to cell phone etiquette...

Here’s the spoiler—there’s only one rule to using your cell phone in a bar: unless you’re calling an ambulance or ordering everyone pizzas, don’t.

If you want to drink alone, staring at a screen, skip the bar, buy a six-pack and sit in your bedroom. It’s cheaper and you’ll never have to queue for the toilet. Assuming you don’t, here are a few tips to keep in mind.

Happy hour is a privilege, not a right. A good bar experience is an exercise in escapism—and your phone is the direct route back to everything you’re trying to escape from. If your emails are really that important, you need to be at the office—you haven’t earned happy hour yet.

Otherwise: you don’t start your mornings with a beer. Don’t start your drinking with an email.

A good bartender beats an iPhone. If you find yourself alone for a moment, turn to the guy behind the bar and say hello. A good bartender can expand your palate, offer intel on other guests and introduce you to the stranger who may have caught your eye. None of that’s info you can get off Google—and you look a hell of a lot more approachable chatting with the bartender than you do tapping away at Facebook.

It’s fun to be a little uninformed. Smartphones settle countless bar arguments—and that’s a bad thing. Half the fun of pub banter is arguing passionately about questions with clear yes/no answers. In a moment of conjecture, the guy who says “I’ll Google it” ends the conversation—and singles out at least one member of your group as a moron. Don’t do that—let the morons delight in their naïveté and save the Wiki-ing for when you’re sober.

Some things don’t need to be curated. Who is the most annoying guy on Facebook? The guy who carefully curates his online presence so his whole life looks like a human highlight reel: photoshopped selfies. Humble-brag status updates. And (sin of sins) “check-ins.”

As a business owner, the last thing I should be doing is discouraging you from telling all 1,342 of your Facebook friends that you’re having fun at my bar. But I’m going to do it anyway. The easiest way not to be that guy is to keep your phone in your pocket.

You can always turn it off. If you doubt your willpower (and you should—according to years of research, approximately 100% of humans are incapable of following the above rules), turn the damn thing off.

Put it in your breast pocket, so you can feel it next to your chest—it’ll ease the separation anxiety. When it’s time to leave, it’ll be right there waiting for you. Now would be an opportune time to ask your new friend for her number...


Eddy Buckingham is the owner of New York’s The Liberty.