This was a matter of debate at Helium.com, where writers were invited to express their opinions, for or against. This is what I wrote.
For all you know, I may be sitting here at the Tech Noir Internet Cafe, eating my Bavarian Ham and Brie Croissant with arugula, baby spinach and alfalfa sprouts while working out deals with my day trader over the phone, between sips of my iced frappe latte parfait with imported organic vanilla bean essence. If food is served, it is a restaurant, at least to the health department. I'm not, but you can picture that scenario, and in this kind of establishment, cell phones may play a crucial role.
I think everyone would agree that smoking is not a healthy vice. Neither is second hand smoke and that is why many states have banned lit cigars and cigarettes from all public buildings and that includes restaurants. Cell phones cause no health danger, other than the fights that might ignite from the rudeness of blabbers and those who want a nice, quiet repast. That could be a problem.
I certainly wouldn't go to a 5 star restaurant and read the Podunk Times while slurping a delightful lobster bisque. Chomping my filet mignon drenched in ketchup with my mouth open? How rude. On the other hand, I have no problem with cell phones down at the fast food joint and local greasy spoon, where the hustle and bustle of activity and conversation tend to neutralize cell phone chatter. "You want fries with that?" Personally, I don't like to carry on a private conversation in front of people, especially strangers. Who I talk to and what I talk about is no one's business but mine, but there I might be inclined to answer and talk as quietly as I can without disturbing others. In between bites, of course.
Back to smoking for a moment. You don't see churches with NO SMOKING signs hung all over the place. They don't need them. You don't normally see TURN OFF ALL CELL PHONES signs, either. It's just common sense and proper etiquette that tell us to refrain from certain behavior depending on the setting. Why can't people learn to take that same politeness and respect with them wherever they go before the government intervenes at the behest of the annoyed? Since restaurants aren't the only places that suffer from this form of aural intrusion, where would legislation stop?
As far as I'm concerned, a cell phone is nothing more than a phone that's not plugged into a wall and it works almost everywhere. It is a utility, for crying out loud. Oops. Did I just scream that? In the past, we couldn't take our phones with us. Now we can, and the main problem lays with the courtesy challenged, those ego-fed bean heads who want to show others, especially strangers, how important they are. All other conversation must cease. Look at me! I think it should be at the discretion of the individual restaurant to allow or bar cell phones. Because ambience and cuisine vary tremendously, it should be a management decision. There shouldn't be an across the board ban.
All of this kind of makes me wonder, do parents still teach their children to sit up straight and chew with their mouths closed? Do they tell them to hang up the phone, it's time for dinner? Probably not.