Restaurants are putting digital detox on the menu with smartphone-free dining


Initiatives encouraging customers to give up their smartphones while dining out are multiplying in restaurants. — AFP Relaxnews

In Italy, certain restaurants are encouraging their customers to set aside their smartphones while they eat to truly enjoy the moment. But to convince diners to give up their phones, they usually have to promise rewards.

Restaurant owners seem to be taking an increasingly taking a dim view of smartphone use at their tables. Now, some of them are testing ways of encouraging customers to try a digital detox while they dine, ensuring their establishments some good publicity in the process.

Opened on March 21, a restaurant in the Italian city of Verona has installed lockers – similar to the safe boxes used in hotels to store personal belongings – in which diners can leave their smartphones for the duration of their meal.

Numerous Italian media websites, such as Corriere della Sera and the Gambero Rosso food guide, have reported on this initiative. The surrender of smartphones is not compulsory, but rather encouraged with an incentive, since customers who agree to part with their device receive a bottle of wine free of charge.

All you have to do is show the key to the locker to obtain the bottle, a red wine made from South African Pinot noir (those expecting a Barolo will no doubt be disappointed).

As a result, some 90% of consumers have already tried the experience, the owner of the Al Condominio restaurant told The Guardian. Some diners may see this as a good idea, whether as a money saving hack or as a means to take time out from their smartphone and reconnect with the moment.

In Tuscany, a similar initiative is underway, targeting smartphones and their effects on the dining experience. The Separè 1968 restaurant in Cecina has decided to persuade its customers to give up their smartphones in exchange for vouchers.

According to owner Niccolo D'Andrea, focusing on what's on your plate without being distracted by the presence of your smartphone increases the attention you pay to the food, the flavours and your dining partner(s).

In France, too, the concept is catching on. Earlier this year, a restaurant owner in Albi took inspiration from Dry January and adapted the idea to cellphone use. At Samy's Diner, customers had the choice of placing their devices in a basket at the end of the table, giving them the opportunity to claim a free tea or coffee.

However commendable these initiatives may be, they nevertheless run counter to some new restaurant practices, where smartphones are increasingly becoming the tool of choice for reading a menu, or even ordering, in establishments that have adopted QR codes and ditched paper printouts.

Similarly, this approach is neither European in origin nor reserved for independent restaurateurs. Back in 2016, the American fast-food chain Chick-fil-A offered its customers the chance to give up their smartphones while eating their fried chicken in order to get a free dessert. Proof that smartphone use while dining out has long been a bugbear for some. – AFP Relaxnews

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