Cell phones prompt many to make judgment calls

Convenience, etiquette clash at establishments

August 03, 2002|By Stacey Hirsh | Stacey Hirsh,SUN STAFF

At an Amoco gas station in Baltimore, chatting while pumping is a no-no.

At some local golf clubs, tee time is no time for talking.

And at a number of restaurants around the region, gabbing in the dining room is simply not permitted - not on your cell phone at least.

For many reasons, from safety to etiquette, a growing number of businesses insist that customers keep their cell phones turned off.

Knox Bricken, a senior analyst who follows wireless communications for the Yankee Group in Boston, said that increased awareness about cell phone etiquette is developing around the country.

"More and more you find individual businesses kind of taking it into their own hands with signs: `Be polite. Turn off your cell phones,'" she said.

The trend comes as cell phone use is skyrocketing.

More than 137 million Americans use cell phones, and someone subscribes to a mobile phone service about every two seconds, according to the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association in Washington.

But the Amoco gas station at Howard and 21st streets in Baltimore doesn't want customers talking on those phones while filling their tanks. Yellow Transportation, the company that owns the station, said it wants patrons concentrating on pumping, not spilling fuel.

Local private clubs have similar rules.

"We just feel that phone calls should be taken in private," said Nancy Palmer, general manager of Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills.

The Baltimore Country Club began a policy in 1997 that limits cell phones to cars with the windows rolled up. "The country club is a social activity, a place of fun, leisure, not of business," explained Jason Diaz, the club's head golf professional.

The Annapolis Yacht Club bans cell phone use in its clubhouse and on the deck, said Michael Mooney, the club's general manager and chief operating officer. It began in 1999 after someone shouted obscenities into his cell phone as board members walked by, he said.

"They can use it in the parking lot next to their car or on their boat - that's about it," Mooney said.

Amtrak has a "quiet" car on 98 percent its trains in the northeast corridor. In those cars, riders are prohibited from using cell phones, and the volume on their laptops must be turned down.

"This is beyond not using a cell phone: This is the sleeper car, you're not even supposed to talk," said Scott Morgan, an attorney for Amtrak who commutes from Philadelphia to Washington on the quiet car.

The state of New York banned talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving. Hospitals, where signals from cell phones can interfere with equipment, have banned or limited use of the devices. And so have some schools.

Kenny Vieth, who owns Henninger's Tavern in Baltimore, decided to begin a no-cell-phone policy in his dining room after a teen-age girl gabbed on her cell phone during dinner while two diners at a nearby table did the same.

"I just looked around, and I thought, `This is mad,'" Vieth said.

He added to the menu a request that patrons not to use cell phones in the dining room, although talking is permitted at the adjoining bar.

Henninger's was named Baltimore's best romantic restaurant last year by citysearch.com, an online guide to cities around the country. "It's hard to be romantic when you've got phones going off," Vieth said.

Bob Fisher, a real estate agent, eats out every night, often at Henninger's. He always turns his phone off while dining. "I come here to relax after work, not to listen to all these chimes and ringing," he said during a recent dinner.

Anecdotal evidence shows that restaurants in other parts of the country have been making similar requests, said Ron Paul, president of Technomic Inc., a Chicago restaurant consulting company. "I think it's a safe prediction to suggest that increased resistance ... will spread," Paul said. "I think it's going to creep and crawl as a trend."

Thomas Rudis, owner of the Golden West Cafe, said the no-cell-phone rule creates a more a calming atmosphere in his cozy Hampden restaurant. He also said that cell phone conversations in the restaurant irritate his staff and the people around the offender.

"More often than not, I see someone at the end of the table just dangling there, waiting for someone to get off the phone," he said.

Answering a cell phone call in the presence of others sends a message that the person on the phone is more important than the person they are with, said Carol Haislip, a director at the International School of Protocol in Phoenix in Baltimore County. Proper cell phone etiquette is to be considerate to the people around you by moving to a private area or turning off the phone at church or the theater.

Martin Marafioti almost made a major faux pas the other day and he didn't even know it: He left his cell phone on at the Roland Park post office.

"I didn't realize I was entering the sacred temple of the Roland Park Station," he joked.

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