Restaurants can be quiet places these days. The sight of an entire table of diners gazing not at their lovingly prepared meals but instead at their message-giving smartphones is an increasingly common one that’s led some restaurateurs to take matters into their own hands.
Take the naked restaurant in London, for example, where, as its name suggests, diners had to dine in the buff, forcing them to leave their tech at the door, though it’s possible some sneaky diners slipped their device into an accommodating crack or fold.
Then there was the Israeli eatery that offered diners a whopping 50 percent discount if they switched off their phones during their visit because the owner wanted nothing more than for them to “enjoy the food and enjoy the company.”
And how can we forget Phone Stack, a restaurant game that punished the first person to grab their phone by forcing them to pay for the entire table at the end of the meal.
The latest effort aimed at getting diners to engage with one another rather than with their handsets comes from award-winning chef Marco Canora. Based at Tuscan-American restaurant Hearth in Manhattan, Canora has placed special boxes on each table. On the box reads a note: “Open me!”, while inside it another says, “We’d like to invite you to unplug during your meal here at Hearth. Feel free to use this box to put your phone away and connect with your fellow diners.”
Discussing the novel idea with dining guide Eater, Canora said, “If there’s one time in the 24 hours in your day that’s a time to engage with the person you’re with, it makes sense to me that it’s around the dinner table.”
The chef originally thought about offering to take phones from diners before seating them, but ditched the plan because of what he described as “decision fatigue” among many city folks. Giving your phone up at the door might also be a step too far for many tech-addicted diners, with a box on the table an altogether more acceptable solution (because you can grab it any time, y’see).
Canora told Eater that about 60 percent of diners are using the boxes, though he’s keen to point out that diners don’t need to feel bad if they ignore them.
“If you want to do it, you can do it; if you don’t want to do it, don’t,” the chef said, adding, “It’s just a box on the table that’s there if you want it.”
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