Some restaurants rewarding customers for putting away their cellphones

Posted at 11:47 AM, Nov 13, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-13 12:36:14-05

NEW YORK – More than 90% of Americans own a cell phone and many people use them to take pictures of their food or make phone calls when they’re dining out.

But some restaurants are fed up with the disruptions and are banning them, asking customers not to use them at the table and even rewarding diners who ditch their phones.

The owner of one New York City restaurant envisioned a place where diners could not only enjoy a good meal but could also connect in conversation.

But over the years, Hearth chef Marco Canora noticed something very different happening, “No one was communicating, and it was infuriating to me.”

His solution is subtle — old boxes on each table that say “open me,”

“There’s another note here that says, ‘we’d like to invite you to unplug during your meal at Hearth’,” Canora said.

It was an easy sell for Chris Sampson and his friends.

“I love it. I really love it. Sometimes if I go to a restaurant and cell service doesn’t work, I’m secretly happy about that,” Sampson said.

At one sushi restaurant in New Jersey customers are invited to do the same on Tuesday nights.

Instead of a box, there’s a champagne bucket and diners enjoy a 20% discount if they make it through their meal without their phones.

“Really the only pushback that we’ve seen, that people are afraid that they couldn’t do it,” Sushi Lounge manager Stacy Oriente said.

Other restaurants have rolled out cell phone policies — from limiting photography to instituting full bans — and Bon Appétit editor Julia Kramer isn’t surprised.

“Restaurants have benefitted greatly from how obsessed people are with taking photos of their food.  But there’s a flip side of that, and maybe it’s a backlash as well — which is that this type of behavior is also very disruptive,” Kramer said.

Back at Hearth, not everyone participates and they don’t have to.

“If you like the idea of putting your phone away and being present with the person you’re having dinner, by all means, use the box that’s on the table.,” Canora said.

-Kenneth Craig reporting for CBS News