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May 3, 2014 at 8:16 PM

Should you ask a bartender to charge your phone?

Should there be an outlet under this bratwurst plate? Altstadt file photo by Greg Gilbert/The Seattle Times

Should there be an outlet under this bratwurst plate? Altstadt file photo by Greg Gilbert/The Seattle Times

The etiquette of technology continues to cross new boundaries. Just when we were getting some guidelines in place for using laptops in coffee shops, now bartenders are being asked by customers to charge up their dying cell phones.

What was once a favor for friends or regulars has become a general expectation at the bar, restaurateur Brendan McGill of Hitchcock restaurant, Hitchcock Deli and the Altstadt beer hall said on Facebook Saturday.

“The strive to provide excellent service raises the conundrum: if your server is messing around with your phone, they’re not attending to your more dining-related needs, nor those in the rest of their section,” he wrote.

He asked whether he should have a policy for how to address the phenomenon — and if so, which way it should go. Discourage electronic devices and decline to charge phones? Add a charge for the service? Offer it freely and with a smile?

More than 60 responses from industry colleagues, customers and friends quickly followed — and they were split pretty evenly pro and con. Some felt electronics had no place in a restaurant, period. Some felt that people have a genuine need to keep cell phones on hand for emergencies, but it wasn’t the restaurateur’s responsibility to keep them charged. A few asked about the liability of having the valuable equipment behind the counter. Those who know food safety regulations brought up the extra time the bartenders would spend washing hands after handling the devices.

However, others noted, a restaurant is about making customers happy in addition to feeding them. Exceptional service, one said, is about addressing customers needs before they do. There were suggestions to install paid self-serve charging kiosks — but others who said paying a fee would be offensive.

McGill said in an email that the issue was a real conundrum, especially figuring out how to balance the goal of good service with the desire of other diners to enjoy a low-tech dinner or drink.

Installing outlets under the bar is sounding like the right answer to him — “the ‘purse hooks’ of the ’10s,” he called them. Restaurants under new construction should have the outlets, he thought, though he wasn’t sure he was ready to foot the electrical bill to add them in. And a big part of him still wanted to “to be the anti-tech guys I admire, like Monorail Coffee with the cell phone surcharge.” Keeping an external battery around to loan out as needed might be a solution, to keep behind the counter much the way he keeps reading glasses there for the occasional customer in need.

McGill’s not the only one wondering. As it turns out, the question has been around long enough to make it on lists like “12 Tips on Proper Bar Etiquette,” which holds that “Asking a bartender to charge your phone is like asking him to change your diapers.” One of the external phone chargers, in fact, was invented by bartenders who were being asked too often to charge customers phones and had a policy of saying no. As that company’s exec told Mashable, “The last thing a bartender needs to do is spill Grey Goose on someone’s phone.”

Opinions? Would you like to see cell phone chargers at the bar, or is that the new place where we should draw the line?

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