The BBC has posted a wonderful story about a coffee shop owner in Norwich, England that is now enforcing a “no cell phones” when ordering rule.

"sorry we are unable to serve you if you are on the phone"
BBC News

As the shop owner explained it to the BBC reporter, he was getting tired of customers trying to order a cappuccino while talking on the phone. He was unable to ask them if they wanted a lid, or a cover, and found it increasingly frustrating. He put up the sign, not wanting to start a campaign, but just “to make his life a little easier.”

I think it should become a campaign. I think it is both a good step forward, and a sad comment on life, when a shop-keeper has to put up a sign saying he expects a certain degree of etiquette from his or her customers.

No Mobile Phone use at the register
Photo by Ron Tite via Instagram

If you are in line to get a coffee, you owe the staff a basic amount of dignity by acknowledging them and engaging them in simple conversation when placing your order. At that moment, a two-way interaction with another human being should take precedent over whatever remote conversation is taking place on your phone. Certainly, the customer would feel slighted if the coffee shop employee was talking on his or her phone instead of giving 100% attention to the job at hand.

I wondered if this kind of sign might take off in North America, when a friend on Facebook told me about a similar sign on display at Jimmy’s Coffee on Portland street in Toronto. Like the coffee shop in Norwich, it gets to the point “Please finish your call and our cashier will be pleased to serve you.”

But could they go further?

I remember seeing a great sign outside the Port Charlotte Primary school on the Scottish island of Islay many years ago. Like many schools around the world, it must have a problem with parents idling their cars outside the school grounds as they wait to pick up their children. At my daughter’s school, there are polite no-parking signs reminding parents to not block the school entrances. The Scottish school cut to the point, and called out the parent’s behaviour in three large yellow banners hung around the school: “Parking Near the School Entrance is Dangerous and Selfish”

Parking near the school entrance is dangerous and selfish
Image courtesy Google Streetview

It was the word “selfish” that stuck with me. It called out a breach of social etiquette for what it was: a selfish act. The parents who blocked the entrance to the school for their own convenience were thinking only of themselves. There no room for a polite suggestion of “no parking” here. The school made it clear: break our rule and we consider you rude and self-centred.

I’d love to see this kind of language make it to the coffee shop.

“Talking on the phone while trying to place an order is rude and selfish.”