Banning cell phone use at tables is a highly debated topics in the restaurant industry right now. There is a growing consensus that individuals should disconnect from their devices during meals with family and friends. However, a restaurant’s place in the disconnection remains less clear. Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of restaurants intervening to ban cell phone usage.
- Banning cell phone use could increase customer experience. While some restaurants revere customers who take Instagram photos of their dishes, those same restaurants often worry that eating dinner with a screen in hand detracts from the overall customer experience.
- Less cell phone usage means more time for actual conversation. An article from The Takeout explores the personal problems of one customer to connect with those she eats with. A MIT sociologist argues that we are losing our ability to have deep, insightful conversations as well. In either case, restaurants offer people a perfect setting to reclaim the lost art of conversation and increased conversation may mean a better experience and more repeat guests.
- Customers lingering can create cash flow problems. The easiest way for a restaurant to fix cash flow problems is to increase sales. However, you need to turn over tables at a steady rate in order to do so. Customers who use their cell phones at the table are more prone to lingering than customers who do not, according to research by The Balance Small Business.
- Customers don’t want businesses telling them how to live. It may be disheartening to see a family out to dinner and all of them are preoccupied with their phones. But, that’s their choice. Unless their conversations are so loud that they’re disturbing other customers, there is no reason for a restaurant to intervene.
- Restaurants are not social therapy centers. Our addiction to smartphones is indicative of a larger social issue. Even so, it’s not a crime that restaurants should punish you for. That customer is certainly allowed to be “non-present” for a meal, even if you don’t like it.
- Banning electronics could discourage the business crowd from coming to your restaurant. Restaurants are great meeting places for the business crowd. They’re lively, interactive, and offer services that stereotypical meeting places do not. Some coffee shops already ban the use of laptops because they take up table space and give off an anti-social vibe. This approach wreak havoc on your bottom line. You could lose catering business, and, more importantly, lunch time business. Be mindful not to alienate a crowd that has so much to offer your business.
We don't know the right answer to this debate but it won't be universal anyway. Consider thoughtfully the restaurant you are trying to create and how phones add to or detract from that experience when creating any policies around cell phone use.