NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

PortWatch

October 26, 2012

Restaurant cellphone distractions still irritate

The digital divide is wider than ever between diners who talk, tweet and snap pictures mid-meal and those who wish they’d just shut up, shut down and be present.

Caught at the center of the discord are restaurant owners and chefs, who must walk the careful line of good customer service for both those who dine under the influence of smartphones, and those who won’t. But as the devices have morphed into an unrelenting appendage for texting, photography and games, more restaurateurs are challenged to keep the peace.

Owners who once relied mostly on “no cell phones, please” signs, increasingly are experimenting with everything from penalties for using phones, discounts for not, and outright bans on photography.

“There’s no place to get away from the chatter,” said Julie Liberty of Miami, who started the Facebook page “Ban Cell Phones From Restaurants” earlier this year. “Everything has a soundtrack, including when you go into the ladies room. That’s just not right.”

It’s a touchy issue. Consider the crush of news coverage Eva Restaurant in Los Angeles generated when it began offering patrons a 5 percent discount if they leave their phone at the door. Online comments ranged from cheers of “YES!” to others who said their phones would have to be pried from their cold, dead hands.

The policy is working, though. Eva’s Rom Toulon said about 40 percent of our customers will leave their cellphones at the door.

“After a few cocktails and glasses of wine, it can be challenging to remember that you left the phone behind,” he said.

The burst of headlines for Eva came after a Burlington, Vt., deli took on cyber-folk hero status for posting a sign informing customers that $3 will be added to their bill “if you fail to get off your phone while at the counter. It’s rude.” Disgusted diners are doing their part too with games like “phone stack,” in which everyone places their phones in a stack in the middle of the table. The first person who reaches for their phone pays the bill for all.

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