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Discouraging distracted dining
Aug. 20, 2012
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by Ivan Raconteur

A recent headline in the LA Times caught my attention. The story was about a restaurant that pays its customers to put away their phones.

Apparently, Eva Restaurant on Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles is offering patrons a 5 percent discount off their bill if they check their mobile devices before being seated (that means check, in the sense of a coat check near the door, not check one’s messages).

Owner and chef Mark Gold is reportedly using the discount as a way to minimize distracted dining.

About half of the patrons have taken advantage of the offer, according to the story.

Gold’s main concern was not about disturbing other diners. He said it is about two people sitting together and connecting without the distraction of a phone. He explained that he is trying to create an ambiance in which people can really enjoy the experience of good food and good company.

Wow.

It is troubling to think that a restaurant would have to bribe its customers to enjoy a meal together without digital distractions.

It is a sad commentary on society that Gold’s vision sounds like radical thinking.

What does it say about us that we can’t even get through a meal or share a beverage with a friend without having to exercise our digital addiction?

Gold is not imagining things.

Any time one goes to a restaurant, coffee house, bar, or other public place these days, one will see people sprouting phones, iPads, or other electronic devices.

For some people, these devices seem to be permanently attached to their hands or ears. It is as if the digital devices are some sort of a lifeline, and people are incapable of surviving unless they are connected.

It saddens me that I have been guilty of it myself. As much as it annoys me when other people do it, I confess that I have checked messages and looked things up on my phone while sitting at a table with friends.

There was a time, not so long ago, when it would have been considered a breach of etiquette and extremely rude if one ignored the people with whom one was dining.

If one went out on a date with someone and ignored them, it would quickly become a last date.

If a group of friends went out for the evening and one person was busy with something else and failed to pay attention to his friends, the friends would object.

Today, some people barely notice things like that. I have seen instances at bars or restaurants where everyone at the table is busy poking at an electronic device and completely ignoring the people they are with.

Even at a recent family vacation, I was shocked to note that sometimes, when we were all hanging around in the cabin, some at the table and others spread out on couches and chairs, everyone in the room was engaged in some kind of electronic activity on iPhones, iPads, or iPods.

It wasn’t just the young people, either. From children to grandparents, everyone was doing it.

It is frightening how quickly this change in behavior and attitude have evolved.

The technology may be new, but the basic behavior isn’t. A few years ago, if we went out with someone, and whipped out a book or newspaper and started reading it and ignoring our companion, there would have been consequences.

Depending on how much of a dudgeon one’s companion worked herself into, one might have received a severe tongue lashing or even a sock on the beezer for committing such an infraction.

Today, one’s companion might not even notice, because she might be engaged in a digital distraction of her own.

Gold is right to be concerned. We may be in danger of losing the art of conversation.

Our ability to simply sit and enjoy the company of another person may be on the verge of extinction.

I don’t get out much these days, but it seems to me that losing the capacity to get lost in a pleasant conversation with someone without checking sports scores, Twitter feeds, or Facebook posts would be a tragedy.

The good news is that things don’t have to be that way.

We don’t have to wait for a restaurant or someone else to reward us for good manners and common sense.

We can make a commitment to voluntarily check the tech when we are spending time with others.

We have a choice. We can choose to be present in the moment and enjoy the company of real, live people.

The reward for actually taking the time to listen to someone and enjoy a drink together or a pleasant meal and good conversation is likely to be far more rewarding than a 5 percent discount on a restaurant bill.


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