With all the cell phone bans in restaurants these days, you'd think the devices were somehow ruining business.
Restaurants from California to New York have banned mobile use for years now, so it's no surprise that bars are testing out the same theory. The latest to join the trend, Le Félix in Montreal, actually collects phones when people arrive and holds them until the checks are paid. We'd like to argue that while a polite nudge or gentle suggestion might be fine in these situations, an outright ban simply won't work in the long run. Here's why.
From the management's perspective, it makes perfect sense to try to restrict cell phone use in a bar or restaurant. Owners and managers want to eliminate distractions from the experience and the cuisine or drinks at hand. Fair. They're also trying to create an enjoyable atmosphere for guests where no one has to overhear uncomfortable phone conversations from the table next door. Great. The issue is, they're also manipulating how guests behave, as one of the oft-cited goals is to encourage people to take a healthy break from technology and enjoy the company of the other human beings around them. This usually just translates to irritated customers wondering why these restaurateurs are overmanaging their behavior.
For this reason, many places have relaxed their once-strict policies, realizing people will inevitably ignore the rules if they feel so inclined (or worse, avoid the place altogether if their civil liberties are going to be impinged upon). Rules have changed at places like Rogue 24 in Washington, D.C., and modern speakeasy the Violet Hour in Chicago. At the latter, manager Eden Laurin says the idea was to ensure that customers fully experience the cocktails and company of their compatriots without distractions, but now guests are allowed to partake in Instagramming, texting and tweeting — only talking on the phone is discouraged. She acknowledges that creating rules for a space like this goes "against the norm of modern hospitality," but because the bar strives for "total transparency" and the staff "always communicate our rules and reasoning," the regulations have been largely accepted by visitors.
For some guests, putting away the phone for an hour or two isn't a huge deal, and plenty of reports have surfaced pointing out how many guests welcome the forced interactions. But the fact is, there are ways to encourage this behavior without alienating potential customers. Confiscating mobile devices at the door or implementing penalties should guests sneak in a text goes against the spirit of hospitality. It's the service industry, after all, and implementing restrictions on how guests interact (or don't) with the people around them seems like a great disservice to the customer.