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Does No-Phones Dining Have A Future? Industry Professionals Give Us Their Take

In the 21st century, mobile phones often seem an indelible part of each and every aspect of our lives. According to Inc., the average person spends up to four hours a day on their phone. Browsing social media, sending emails and texts, streaming videos … the list goes on.

However, some restauranteurs want to return us to a more analog style of dining, encouraging patrons to eschew their devices and instead focus on the enjoyment of food and drink, along with in-person interactions with friends and family (you know, those humans you see when you look up from your phone). “No phones” dining, a trend slowly creeping into the modern restaurant world, seeks to achieve this goal by restricting phone use during certain meal times and providing other means of entertainment for guests, like board games, film screenings, and extra rounds of drinks.

no phones dining date
AJ Watt/Getty Images

An admirable pursuit, to be sure, but can “no phones” dining really hope to survive in a world that seems more tech-dependent by the day? In the name of research, we reached out to restaurant managers who have implemented phone-free policies at their eateries to get some straight talk on the matter.

How Have Restaurants and Bars Adopted Phone-Free Policies?

In their pursuit of a phone-free dining experience, some restaurants have launched “phone-free” initiatives, which take shape in a variety of manners. For instance, bartender/manager Johnny Welsh of 5th Ave Grille in Frisco, Colorado tells us that “I have a fun way to limit smartphones at my bar. As a bartender (of 27 years) at a busy restaurant in Frisco, Colorado, I like to give away prizes for those who use their phones the least. The prizes can range from a round of drinks, a round of shots, or a copy of my book about smartphone addiction.”

In their pursuit of a phone-free dining experience, some restaurants have launched “phone-free” initiatives, which take shape in a variety of manners.

For Tijuana Picnic in New York City, a partnership with tech-free event organizers TTYL spurred their first phoneless service, complete with board games, coloring books, and a social self-care experience. “Liana Pavane of TTYL actually reached out to us about hosting a phones-free game night, and it sounded like a great opportunity for our guests to meet one another in an engaging and genuine way,” the Tijuana Picnic management team explains.

How Have Customers Responded?

According to our sources who have attempted no-phones service practices, the response from guests is typically positive, with customers finding the separation from their devices a refreshing novelty. However, Welsh does note that it’s important to tread carefully here: “Some folks do not like their [phones] taken away from them, so I have to be careful to read the guest.”

no phones dining smartwatch
Images By Tang Ming Tung/Getty Images

Tijuana Picnic experienced enthusiastic customer reactions to their first TTYL night, telling The Manual that “[the event went] really well!  Liana brought a bunch of throwback games, which played to the nostalgia of the simpler days pre-cell phone, which I think definitely helped. People are less likely to want to escape back to their phones if there’s Twister involved.”

Nostalgia while we eat and drink? Count us in.

Can No-Phones Dining Continue in an Increasingly Plugged-In World?

Ultimately, we as a society may be past the point of no return when it comes to the involvement of smartphones in our dining experiences, but we can still reconfigure the way we choose to engage.

“[Phones are] a double-edged sword, because we definitely want our guests to engage with us on social media, to take pictures of their experience, post, tag, share, like, etc, but it no doubt kills the vibe if everyone at the table has their head buried in their phones instead of engaging with one another. At the end of the day, we’re here to provide our guests with an experience. The atmosphere, food, drinks, service, design, and music are what we have to share and shape that guest experience, so hopefully, after they’ve made a pit stop on Instagram, we can get them back to enjoying the here and now,” Tijuana Picnic shares. Thanks to the success of their inaugural event, the restaurant already has another phone-free night scheduled for August 14.

Welsh agrees, claiming that “I do feel these [device-limiting] rules will begin to show up in more places over time. I hope that a smartphone etiquette movement is on the horizon.”

Taylor Tobin
Taylor Tobin is a freelance food, drink, and lifestyle writer based in Brooklyn. She's contributed content to publications…
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