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Cellphone-Free Restaurants

By Kim Robson:

With every passing year, smartphones are becoming more and more of a necessity. Want to call an Uber or Lyft? Order takeout from that hip new taco joint? Send a text in seconds instead of (what felt like) hours, laboriously tapping out each character, having to press the number “7” four times to get an “S”? Google virtually anything handy while on the fly? Hubby and I finally relented and got our smartphone less than a year ago.

Modern life increasingly requires us to carry one. As a result, dismayed restaurant owners are seeing a sea of tiny glowing screens at every table. Patrons seem more interested in Instagramming their meals than savoring them, and families and couples are ignoring each other at the table. Because thesephones have become ubiquitous, society has quickly forgotten just how incredibly rude and ill-mannered it is to favor a screen over a loved one.

The Emily Post Institutehas been a standard-bearer of style, manners and etiquette for decades, beginning with the seminal book Etiquettein 1922. Times have changed in the near-century since then, but according to the Posts, the principles of good manners remain constant. Above all, they say, manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. Regarding cellphone use at the dinner table, the Posts naturally have an opinion: “If you’re having dinner with friends and family, be with them. The family meal is a social event, not a food ingestion event.”

Researchshows that nearly 50 percent of adults and more than 70 percent of teens report that they feel they must respond to texts and social media notifications immediately. But children say they don’t like their parents using cellphones at the table and, sadly, 70 percent of kids surveyed suspect their parents prefer looking at their screens to engaging with them.

We can’t regulate what people do in their own homes, but some restaurant owners, fed up with this distraction from their skill and artistry, have taken the bull by the horns: many eateries are trying out ways to encourage patrons to set aside their phones while dining. One has issued an outright ban.

The most common tactic is to place a “No Phone Zone” box at the table. It’s often a lovely example of woodworking and craftsmanship in and of itself, encouraging people to open it, admire it and, hopefully, use it to hold their phones out of sight during their meal. If their devices stay in the box for the entire meal, there’s a reward such as kids’ free meals, or a discount of 5 or 10 percent off the check. Of course the practice is optional, but it seems to be met with almost universal approval.

A spokesperson for UK-based restaurant chain Frankie and Benny’s, which is trying out phone boxes, says, “We’ve found giving families the chance to part with their devices for a mere couple of hours is a great way to bring them closer and embrace family time.” Instead of zombified kids playing video games at the table while waiting for their orders, they can color with crayons or play tic-tac-toe or — heaven forbid! — interact with their parents.

John Winterman, owner of the restaurant Batardin Tribeca, says people should focus on enjoying each other’s company and the food, not looking at a phone. “You walk by a table and there’s somebody playing a video game. Or people made a note they’re celebrating their anniversary and you barely see them speak to each other over the course of the two-and-a-half-hour dinner,” he says.

Mario Gigliotti, owner of Italian restaurant Il Triangoloin Queens, has issued an outright ban on phones in his establishment. “No cell phones on the table, at dinner, everyone talks … and this is my home … and when you come into my home, my restaurant — that’s how we run our restaurant.” While some may not care for it, Gigliotti insists that putting the phone down and being present is an important step to keeping the restaurant’s atmosphere social.

Here’s one last thing for single people to consider. Regardless of the restaurant’s policy, put away your phone while out on a date. Five thousand singles from the dating site Match.com were surveyed, and “constantly checking phone” was the #1 turn-off for women on a first date, and among men, 75 percent thought it was unacceptable.

About Kim Robson

Kim Robson lives and works with her husband in the Cuyamaca Mountains an hour east of San Diego. She enjoys reading, writing, hiking, cooking, and animals. She has written a blog since 2006 at kimkiminy.wordpress.com. Her interests include the environment, dark skies, astronomy and physics, geology and rock collecting, living simply and cleanly, wilderness and wildlife conservation, and eating locally.

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