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Restaurant tries tasteful way to get you off your phone

Commentary: Chef Marco Canora of New York's Hearth wants you to talk to each other. So he's offering an easy solution to put your phone away.

2 min read
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Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.

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So polite. Unlike those who don't put their phones away.

Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Going out to dinner has proved at times a depressing experience for me lately.

Too often, I see people sitting opposite each other. Their eyes, however, don't look into each other's. Instead, they're looking down at their phones.

Then the food comes and they just have to take a picture.

This is love? This is even human?

James Beard award-winning chef Marco Canora wonders if there's a tasteful way to encourage people to get off their phones. So, as Eater reports, at his New York restaurant Hearth, he's placed attractive boxes on each table. 

He hopes that people will be fascinated enough to open them. Inside, they'll find a note. "We'd like to invite you to unplug during your meal here at Hearth. Feel free to use this box, put your phone away, and connect with your fellow diners," it says.

It's a deft attempt. 

Canora didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

He told Eater that the idea came to him not because he loathes his restaurant being full of mute phone-watchers, but because he realized one day just how much of his time is being sucked away by gadgets.

Pre fight night supper #polentaonpoint

A post shared by LP (@laupicarde) on

But instead of mandating some draconian rule, he's gone for a subtle prod. 

"If you want to do it you can do it, if you don't want to do it, don't," he told Eater. "We don't have to tell a story, we don't have to ask you a question. It's just a box on the table that's there if you want it."

He said that around 60 percent of his customers participate. I wonder how many cheat some way through the meal. I confess that I do. Especially if my girlfriend and I are talking about something and need information of one kind or another.

Out come the phones and she reveals why she's right. But we do try to put the phones away immediately. Unless we just have to take a picture of the food, that is.

Sigh, we're doomed.

Canora isn't the first restaurateur to have tried de-gadgeting customers. Five years ago, LA restaurant Eva actually tried to bribe customers into getting off their phones, by offering them a 5 percent discount if they obeyed.

Another LA restaurant, Bucato, tried designated cell phone areas

Some restaurants, though, have tried to embrace its customers' desire to be plugged in. They post their Instagram handles on the menu. In one case, a restaurant got upset with me for using the wrong handle. Yes, during dinner.

There is, of course, one positive in people using their phones all through dinner. The restaurant is a little quieter.

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