When I was around 18 years old, social media was really starting to take off with the emergence of Facebook and Twitter (RIP MySpace). It was also around this time that the first iPhone was released. I feel guilty saying it now (Apple, I love you!), but for the first couple of years I didn’t really want to know. Overnight, it seemed, everyone around me become obsessed with their phone. Dinners with friends were the most annoying – phone etiquette hadn’t really developed at this point (if it has now), so I would spend half the meal in silence watching the person I was with messaging someone else or looking at Facebook. Fun times.
I still breathe a passive-aggressive sigh when people I’m with won’t stop looking at their phone, but I think I’m fighting a losing battle. No one can deny that iPhones have completely changed the way in which people drink and dine out, but does this have a positive or negative impact on bars and restaurants?
I would say it has both.
Enter the humblebrag, or the ability to show off without appearing to be, enabled by social media. I never used to be a humblebragger, but then I discovered Instagram and something strange happened: I still won’t text people when I’m out with someone else, but I’ll be damned if I let a plate of food go un-photographed and posted for posterity. When it comes down to it, this is free coverage for bars and restaurants. They may not be able to control the quality of the posts (I’ve been told I have ‘focus issues’), but the effect of social recommendations can be extremely positive. This increases exponentially if the posts come from social influencers with a large social media following.
I may be guilty of a food-related humblebrag, but I generally take one or two photos before putting my phone away for the rest of the meal, so I can actually speak to the people I’m with. A lot of people don’t have this rule, and will remain attached to their phone until the bitter end. Research has shown that increased use of phones (even just taking photos) leads to decreased interaction and connection with the actual experience. If you’re busy taking, tagging and posting photos, your attention is on your phone rather than the people and happenings around you. This is obviously irritating for those operators, chefs and bartenders who spend a great deal of time trying to create a memorable experience, only to have it distorted through the lens of a phone.
Regardless of whether you or not you accept the humblebrag, it has become so deeply engrained in our society that most bars and restaurants will have no choice but to learn to live with it. Some restaurants have adopted a phone-free policy, but they do so at the risk of annoying people who don’t particularly want to be told how to eat a meal. On the other hand, some businesses (in particular new or lesser-known places) may want to encourage use of social media, for example by creating hashtags, and embrace the free publicity that the humblebrag brings.
For those of you personally affected by humblebraggers, can I suggest implementing the rule that my friend and I used to have: one photo then phones away. First person to check it again pays the bill. Gets you a lot of free meals these days.
By Laura Condon
Cover image credit: Nandini Poddar