Children in the United Kingdom will no longer be able to be entranced by the glow of their cell phone screens while eating their spaghetti and meatballs. Teenagers will—god forbid—have to go without refreshing Instagram or sending Snaps while eating their pizza, and may actually have to share a conversation with their parents.
At least, that may be the case at Italian-American-themed restaurant Frankie & Benny’s, which, as of tomorrow, is launching a campaign encouraging diners to place their phones in a “no phone zone” box at the table, as reported by The Independent.
Explaining the move, Frankie & Benny’s issued a statement to the Independent reading, “We’ve found giving families the chance to part with their devices for a mere couple of hours is a great way to bring them closer and embrace family time.” (MUNCHIES has also reached out to Frankie & Benny’s for more information about the campaign, but has yet to receive a response.)
With about 250 locations across the UK, Frankie & Benny’s fashions itself a “New York Italian” restaurant and bar. Its menu is an incongruous mix of “cheeseburger dough balls,” “Nashville hot chicken skewers,” pastrami-topped burgers, and barbacoa-covered hot dogs, alongside red sauce pastas and calzones. With dishes like the “mac ‘n’ cheese sailboat,” it is also quite kid-friendly.
The focus on family is pretty big for the chain, it seems. Aside from its wide menu of options for kids and parents, the company pushes the idea that “parents win,” presumably through their dining experiences that include free balloons—and now, no cell phones.
Though the Independent called the family-focused chain the first in the United Kingdom to “implement a ban on mobile phones,” the move is not actually mandatory. “Of course, we can’t force them to hand over their phones,” a spokesperson told them. Still, use of the dropbox will be encouraged by staff and incentivized through free kids meals for diners who choose to take part.
And while Frankie & Benny’s campaign might not be an outright ban, that’s not unheard of either for restaurateurs these days. Restaurateurs such as Gordon Ramsey, David Chang and Danny Meyer have long complained about the smartphone’s effects on dining ambiance; Meyer even went so far as to liken their presence to “clouds of cigarette smoke and pungent fragrances.” Their shared desire: get diners to actually talk to each other.
Despite the ubiquity of cell-checking at the table, it seems to be a very widely despised aspect of modern dining. The arbiters of manners at the Emily Post Institute have said that texting and presumably most other phone usage at the dinner table is rude (duh), and a study from September showed that phone usage during dining actually makes everyone at the table unhappy—including the person using it.
That being said, the side of searing resentment that results from taking away a kid’s cell phone, even momentarily, could also easily result in a less-than-enjoyable dining experience.