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A call for cell phone etiquette: More businesses and government offices adding policies limiting customer cell phone use

Thanks to modern technology, people have found a way to escape the real world while being immersed in it. Now, local businesses have found a way to bring them back to earth by posting signs restricting the use of cell phones by patrons.

"Some people just act as if they can't see the sign, or maybe they don't understand it," said Tinisha Wiley, the manager of Subway on West Hill Street. "It's frustrating trying to take their order, and we have to ask them questions about what they want."

The sign on the glass case at the sandwich shop leaves no excuse for misunderstanding: "We will not take your order if you are on the cell phone in line. Sorry for the inconvenience."

When a customer remains on the phone while in line, Ms. Wiley said the employee ignores them, moves on to the next person, then returns to them when they hang up.

And it's not just Subway.

"We have learned that just ignoring them is better than confronting them. They get offended if you ask them to step out of line," said Patricia White, the manager of Pizza Hut in Thomson. "But if we get their order wrong, they are mad with us."

Most of the business managers said accuracy was the primary reason for the no-cell-phone-use policy.

"If we make a mistake, they think it's our fault," said Sherry Perkins, a utility clerk with the City of Thomson. "But it's because they're not paying attention."

Ms. Perkins agreed that customers are oblivious to the sign, so she usually just points at it.

"Some people are okay with it, but others roll their eyes," she said. "They know they are coming in here, so I don't know why they can't hang up before they walk in."

In some instances, a mistake could cost more than a temporary annoyance. Businesses that maintain people's health also find it necessary to restrict their customer's cell phone habits.

"We do have a sign at the pharmacy window requiring customers turn off their cell pones," said Joyce Huff, a shift supervisor at CVS. "It would be too easy to get confused and give them the wrong medicine. But elsewhere in the store, it's okay."

At McDuffie Regional Medical Center, signs prohibiting cell phone use are posted in the Emergency Room and the Intensive Care Unit. April Keene, the director of communications at the hospital, said cell phones interfere with the telemetry of some medical equipment.

"So if you are asked by an associate not to use a cell phone in a certain area, it's because it is interfering with patient care ... but it's okay in the waiting areas or in the patient rooms," Ms. Keen said.

Sandy Redfern, who works in Dr. Frank Powell's Internal Medicine office, said when their doctors walk into an examining room and find the patient talking on the phone, they walk out and go to the next patient.

And fast food establishments are trying to keep the "fast" in their title. Misty Delong, a manager at the Thomson McDonald's, said there is no sign in their restaurant, but they don't like customers using the cell phone, because "it slows things down."

Forced cell phone etiquette is becoming a trend, according to Julie Goley, the director of the career center at Augusta State University.

"If you are in a service delivery business, then it slows the process down because somebody is trying to multi task on a cell phone," Ms. Goley said. "The patron's focus is not on being efficient, and the expectation of the business is to get people through as quickly as possible."

Aside from accuracy, safety and speed, the top complaint from business leaders on customer cell phone use was that it's just plain rude.

Tax Commissioner Sandra Whitaker said customers carry on conversations that have nothing to do with the purpose of their visit in the office. Instead, Mrs. Whitaker said they carry on nonsense conversations like, "So, what are you doing?"

There are two signs at the entrance to the Thomson-McDuffie Library, but librarian Cindy Welch said they still have to remind patrons on a daily basis to turn off their ringers and not carry on conversations.

"Everybody that walks in the door has one, even the kids," Ms. Welch said. "It rings so loud with music. ... And I don't know why they don't realize that everybody can hear them talking."

The library isn't the only traditionally quiet place being invaded with loud ring tones. The pastor of New Hope Baptist Church said he had to post a sign on the screen in the sanctuary reminding worshipers to silence their ringers. Phones ringing is more common during the evening service, and Rev. Allen Holbrook said he feels that's because young people are sending text messages all afternoon, then forget to turn their phones off when coming into church.

But the Reverend does feel there's one acceptable excuse for a phone to interrupt the service.

"It's not something that is ongoing every week, but it does happen and it's disturbing when it does," he said. "But I'll just stop preaching and say 'Will somebody please answer that phone and make sure it's not God calling?'"

Even though many of the older adults felt the younger generation is the bigger offender of cell phone manners, some young people are learning from experience.

"It's rude and inconvenient when I'm trying to wait on them and they are on the phone," said Starlissa Gant, 19, who works at McDonald's. "I know what it's like, so when I'm out at other places, I don't do it."

Web posted on Thursday, October 04, 2007

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