Two people sit across from each other at a restaurant in silence, but not out of some sense of politeness because their mouths are full. You see, in addition to the candlelight that's giving the scene a romantic ambience, there's another light source striking their faces: the harsh white glow of their cell phones. For while they're technically eating with one another, the fact that they share a table is just incidental. Even though their bodies are occupying roughly the same space, their minds are far away, focused on whatever it is that's so important on their damn phones.
It's a scene that you think you'd only see in an over-the-top satire about our current state of technological trappings, but actually, it's frightening how ubiquitous this kind of thing actually is. If you claim to have never seen it before, then you've never eaten in L.A.
Which leads me to the following statement: Mark Gold is a genius.
That phrase quickly formed in my brain after I read news about his cell phone turn-in "encouragement" plan he's instituted in his Eva Restaurant on Beverly Boulevard. When diners head into Eva they're given the option of holding onto their cell phone as they get seated, or they can willingly turn in their Blackberries, iPhones, whatever-a-third-option-is to a collector at the door. If they take part in the latter option, they get a cool 5% off their meal.
Gold's rationale for such a plan is precise and to the point:
"We want people to try and connect. Our restaurant is kind of like home and that is the experience that we want to give to our customers. The phone is a distraction. We always see families and couples on their phones and they just aren't in the moment. We want people to enjoy their company."
Few more sensible words have been spoken.
It's bad enough when you're sitting down to eat and the person you're with decides to whip out their cell phone to check their email/fantasy baseball team/Chess With Friends game. When that happens, the simmering anger and resentment that boils inside of the non-phone-user is understandable from all sides. But there's another side of the same coin to think about too, and that's the self-imposed tether you feel whenever you have your phone near you.
Feel that little buzzer alert in your pocket or purse? Could be an important email from your boss. Or a text message you'll feel anxious about if you don't respond to right away. Or someone giving your latest Instagram a confidence-boosting approval that, really, only obligates you to return the "Like," which you'll gladly do, if only they'd stop posting anything but photos of their stupid cat.
And then you're gone. How are you supposed to enjoy your meal when you're dealing with all of those thoughts just from a simple buzzer? Even if you have the self-control to not check your phone right away, whatever conversation you're having has been suddenly derailed, and you realize you don't even remember the last three bites you took from the meal the chef so carefully prepared and that you're paying a substantial amount of money for.
Since the policy's inception, Gold has estimated about 40% of his patrons have taken advantage of the savings, both in the bill and their mind-state. I'd be shocked if that number doesn't start maxing out up near 100% soon enough. And then I'd be equally as shocked if other restaurants don't start following Gold's lead and offering cell-phone-free options of their own, with a few more maverick owners even going so far as to institute a legit cell phone ban in their restaurant. Mark my words, that day is coming. And it's going to be great.