For a while there, hospitality venues couldn’t get enough of mobile phones.

Social media posts, reviews, likes, shares, comments – anything that made their brand look hip and exciting was welcomed with open arms. But as smartphones start to lose their sheen and become objects of distraction – as opposed to connection – restaurants are making a defiant return to old fashioned values.

That is, put down your phone, look your dinner date, and smile.


Creating dining ambience

Whether it is beeping, buzzing, or a ringtone that makes you want to throw the phone out the window, smartphones are more invasive than ever. Once considered the height of bad manners, it’s now standard behaviour to be checking your phone every few minutes, even leave it sitting on the table next to you.

Well, not anymore.

“[We] noticed that couples or friends or families that were coming in were not engaging,” says Stacy Oriente, manager of a Sushi Restaurant in New Jersey, US. “Everybody is illuminated in this ghastly blue light, taking pictures of food, but not really having conversations.”

In a theatre or cinema space, it has become second nature to switch off your phone, or at least put it on silent. The same should apply for dining spaces – having someone loudly chatting on their phone, or ignoring their meal in favour for texting? It can ruin a nice night out.

Connecting with other diners

Marco Canora is a chef at Hearth restaurant in NYC. He’s started to ask diners to put their phone in a box before being seated.

“We want people to have an experience that is calm,” he says, noting that around 60% of diners have obliged in giving up their phones —and the change in atmosphere is remarkable.”

Without the safety net of a phone, diners are encouraged to begin engaging with other diners.

Families and tourists like the idea that “they’re detoxing their minds from their technology,” says Elaine Aquino, an assistant general manager at a Le Pain Quotidien in New York City. “They end up talking with other guests,” Aquino says. “That’s the main meaning of ‘communal table.’”

Respect for the wait staff

How many cafes have you noticed now with placards at their cash machine pointing out that they will refuse service if you’re on your phone? It’s becoming an increasingly common rule among hospitality businesses, and for good reason.

Trying to serve a customer who is in deep concentration on their phone is next to impossible – it causes delays, rudeness, and is generally bad mannered. Trying to a balance a phone call, whilst interacting with the wait staff, often results in snappy manners and rudeness

Banning phones in restaurants is one very effective way to encourage respect towards hard working wait staff. Even something as simple as making eye contact, or listening properly to the specials for the day, makes a huge difference in creating a happy dining environment for both customers and staff.

Respect for the chef

Co-owner of Momofuku Ko in NYC, David Chang, has prohibited phone usage inside his restaurant. His explanation was pretty simple: “It’s just food. Eat it.”

For many chefs, watching their carefully prepared food go cold as diners take pictures, upload to social media, or are just generally distracted by their phones, is heartbreaking. It seems entirely fair enough to ban phones in a bid to get customers to really begin connecting to their food once more.

It takes all the senses to really appreciate great food: you need to look at, smell, and engage with your meal to really enjoy it. Being distracted by a phone takes away from the food, and therefore takes away from your memory of it. How is this then fair when it comes to making a recommendation to a friend for the venue? It will be hard to remember much about your meal when you were deep into an Instagram stalk…

The ‘experience economy’

These days, hospitality needs to be about more than just great food and drink. In an age critics are dubbing ‘the experience economy’, customers want – and need – much more in order to pledge their loyalty to a venue.

Excellent service, surprising dining elements, and added bonuses such as loyalty programs or secret menu options are all examples of how restaurants are adding something extra to their experience offer. Banning phones is another way of creating an unforgettable experience.

In fact, giving up your phone is a little like exercising: it doesn’t feel like much fun before you do it, but is rarely something you regret once you’re done. By tying together the positive ‘phone free’ experience with your venue and brand, customers will undoubtedly be left with a positive memory of you moving forward.

Trends may come and go, but sometimes good old fashioned manners are forever. There is no use channelling time and energy into creating great menu options and sourcing beautiful produce if your customers aren’t going to appreciate it!

Take the jump and start encouraging your customers to give up their phones, and enjoy their food. You might just start a revolution!