Psychologist Breaks Down Why It's So Offensive To Order Food While On The Phone

Life is pretty hectic for all of us these days. Always on the go, no time to stop and slow down, and just about everything we do, we're multitasking as we do it. This isn't always a problem, though — if you're stuck in a super-long checkout line at Walmart, you might as well pull out your phone and check your email, right? But if you're stopping to take selfies while walking the dog, you might wind up stepping in something you should have already picked up off the sidewalk. In some instances, multitasking, particularly when it involves your phone, is just plain wrong.

Carrying on a phone conversation when you're not behind the wheel may not lead to an accident, but it does have the effect of isolating you from the actual humans in your environment. It can also make you seem quite rude. Carla Maria Manly, PhD, clinical psychologist and author of the book "Joy from Fear," tells us of one particular instance where you should always make sure to stop and put down the phone.

Don't talk on the phone while you're placing an order

If you are carrying on a phone conversation while placing a food order in a drive-thru or, even worse, at a restaurant counter, the cashier taking your order will likely feel offended. According to clinical psychologist Carla Maria Manly, there are several reasons why. "On a more practical, superficial level," she tells us, "taking an order from a customer who is distracted by a phone call can certainly decrease the efficiency and accuracy of the ordering process." 

She also points out that carrying on your conversation with someone you obviously do want to talk to on the other end of the phone sends the message that you are treating the cashier — also a living, breathing, human with feelings — as "an automaton whose sole job is to take an order." 

"We are wired for attentive human connection," Manly notes, and, yes, this applies on both ends of any given transaction. "Whether we're ordering food or getting groceries," she says, "it's natural to prefer a mutual interaction rather than a robotic transaction." Your cashier is an actual person standing right in front of you and helping you, so take a few moments to make eye contact, smile, and say "thank you." Not only is it the decent thing to do, it'll also likely benefit everyone involved.

Browsing your phone or texting while ordering can also be rude

While carrying on an actual, out-loud phone conversation is a pretty blatant way of showing that all of your attention is on someone who isn't present, texting or scrolling your social media feed while you're ordering food also sends a similar message. As Carla Maria Manly explains, "Texting and social media browsing while ordering tend to be less distracting and offensive than talking on the phone, yet both share the same element of not giving a cashier one's full attention."

Try to put yourself in the cashier's place. "It's important for each one of us to evaluate the value we place on human interactions — even the most basic ones," Manly points out. She says she's in favor of "showing courtesy and kindness to those I'm in contact with, no matter their job description," and goes on to say, "When we show that we value others in our daily interactions, we ultimately make the world a more positive place."

How you should be handling face-to-face transactions

So, how should you deal with order takers and cashiers when you are in a restaurant or drive-thru? Carla Maria Manly has the answer: "As healthy face-to-face interactions are known to increase our overall well-being, it's generally wise to put down your phone for the one or two minutes it takes to place an order." Not only will this show respect to the person taking your order, but it is also respectful to the person on the other end of the phone. (It's always awkward to have to hang on the line while the person you're speaking to breaks off the conversation to interact with someone else.) 

Manly does note that you'd obviously make an exception for an emergency call, but, in that case, she says, "It's smart to step out of queue to handle the call." And if it is a true emergency, you probably won't be needing those burgers, anyway.

Not only is taking the time to give your full attention to a transaction the polite thing to do for those you're interacting with, it will also benefit you personally. As Manly says, "It's important to not underestimate the mental health boost that occurs when you give yourself a two-minute multitasking break." As she sees it, when you give your undivided attention to the person you're dealing with, this sends a clear signal that "we are both valuable people."