Irecently enjoyed a drawn-out dinner at La Boca's Taberna (125 Lincoln Ave., 988-7102), catching up with some friends from out of town. Chairs were going up onto tables when we finally realized we had talked ourselves right past closing time.

Before he clocked out, our server approached our table and said something to the effect of, "I had a really great time serving you tonight. You were my only table that didn't have their phones out all night. It was nice to see people enjoying good food and good company without being distracted by technology."

What he said struck me because just the previous day I had mulled over a couple sitting next to a group of us at Coyote Cantina. While we worked on some cocktails and a good chat, our neighbors sat in silence—one of them immersed in his phone, the other staring off into space. I
wondered, is technology ruining what's special about dining out?

It may be. A recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that when phones are out at the dinner table, it is harder to sustain meaningful conversations. It's really a no-brainer, as no one likes having a conversation with someone who isn't paying attention. The whole point to dining out is nourishment; not just for our bodies, but for forging and maintaining connections with those we care about.

"It used to be that people went out to dinner and that was their entire night. It was something special, not spending the whole meal on the phone, distracted by all of technology's 'bright, shiny objects.' There's no intimate time anymore."

So says Lee Markel, a long-time staffer in restaurants around Santa Fe. Markel was our server that night at Taberna, and in his 24 years working in Santa Fe, he says he has noticed phones becoming more prolific atop his tables. Sure, that's life; technology has seen rapid advancement since 1995. It's also life in a town teeming with tourists looking to capture a perfect Santa Fe moment for posterity. But for someone who really loves being part of providing a memorable dining experience to his customers, our fixation on phones at the dining table is demoralizing.

"The things I love about La Boca—the live music, good feelings, organic connections and a space that makes you want to spend time there—seem to be going unnoticed by so many people coming to Santa Fe now," says Markel.

That a 2016 report from research firm Dscout says the average person interacts with a smartphone more than 2,600 times per day is most definitely fodder for thought. If we can't put our phones down long enough to enjoy a meal and feed our personal connections, will we put them down for anything? If it's the little things in life that matter, we're missing out on a lot of them.

"As a server, my job is to facilitate that part of the 'show' that is dining out, but now it's like, 'why bother'? People don't care about the nuances of good service anymore … the placing of a coffee mug so the handle is facing the person or a thorough knowledge of the menu. These details of service are going to go away because people don't care," Markel tells SFR. "Unless tradition is upheld, unless we slow down and pay attention to where we are and who we are with, it's all going to be lost."

To Markel's point, if we're too fixated on a phone to appreciate the refined, finessed service that makes eating out such a lovely experience (in addition, of course, to delicious food), we're probably not going to get it. Even in an office setting, there are few people who will continue to go the extra mile if their efforts aren't noticed or appreciated.

And it's not just in restaurants that our devices have become detractors. A growing trend is that of the "digital detox." These range from self-help books to adult summer camps with sessions addressing technology addiction and vacations on which phones are handed over to organizers until the end of the trip. We may not all need a full-on detox, but that they exist is a good indicator that some of us have a connection to that thing in our hand that has gotten out of hand.

"As servers, our job is to help cultivate a sensual human experience," Markel points out. But that experience, and his role in it, has become so diminished by technology that Markel is hanging up his apron for the time being. Though he's moving to care for a family member, he hopes to someday open a restaurant that revolves around fine service.

"Even if it's just tacos," he says, "it's good service that takes the experience of eating to another level."

So, perhaps, on your next restaurant outing, consider putting the phones away. Instead, drink in this beautiful place we call home, dive deep into the experience offered by the amazing restaurants we are lucky to have, take a moment to soak up the spoils of good service, and spend some time plugged into a connection that's truly personal.