A recent Craigslist post gone viral has caused people around the world to give serious thought to the following question: Has going out to eat become less of a social activity and more of a social media activity?
In an anonymous post of arguable validity, a Manhattan restaurant manager responded to a flurry of customer complaints about service delays by pointing the finger of blame back at the customers themselves. Based on a comparative analysis of his restaurant’s video footage from 2004 and 2014, he believes the culprit is clear: distracted diners using their cell phones in restaurants.
Nowadays, it’s not uncommon for a typical restaurant experience to look something like this:
As you wait (to be seated, to order, and for your food to arrive), you and your co-diners look to your phones for entertainment. You snap selfies, scan your Facebook news feeds, and catch up on missed e-mails and text messages. Once your food hits the table, an amateur food photography session almost always ensues. Finally, before heading out to enjoy the rest of your evening, you ask your server to take a few group shots to capture the experience.
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While some of you might find yourselves cringing at the thought, it’s important to acknowledge that social media marketing has, in many ways, revolutionized the restaurant industry and become a pinnacle of the business landscape. From restaurant reviews to posting photos online, customers’ social media activity serves as free marketing for restaurants and coffee shops everywhere.
This places restaurant owners and managers at difficult crossroad: Do you accept that cell phones are part now of the table arrangement, or do you implement a new rule to prevent diners from using cell phones in restaurants?
Adapt to Diners Using Cell Phones in Restaurants
As might be expected, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. In order to make this kind of decision, managers must carefully consider the kind of environment and atmosphere they are trying to create and the kinds of clientele they want to attract. As a coffee shop owner, for example, would eliminating open access to WiFi serve as an effective business strategy, or could it potentially hinder business by turning away prospective customers interested in working on a term paper over an iced latte?
For those of you disillusioned at the thought of a sea of Instagrammers flooding your restaurant, here are three fixes others in the industry have turned to:
1. Implement a Phone Check
Similar to a coat check, have customers check their phones at the door. Eva, a former Los Angeles eatery, offered a 5% discount, while the owner of Isarel restaurant Abu Ghosh gave abiding customers an impressive 50% off their total bill for powering down their phones.
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2. Make Phone-Free Fun Again
Some of you may be familiar with the ever-popular “phone-stack game” where each diner places his or her smart phone in the centre of the table and the first to respond to a text message or phone call automatically foots the bill. Score on Davie, a Vancouver bar, took this a step further by installing lock boxes at each table. By rule, the first to unlock the box and take back their phone must buy the entire table a round.
3. Appoint Designated Cell Phone Areas
We do this with smoking – an equally addictive habit – so why not phones, too?
We want to know: what’s YOUR take on a ‘no cell phone’ restaurant policy?