"We want people to have an experience that is calm," says Chef Marco Canora of his revamped Hearth restaurant in New York City. Apparently that means phones should be out of the picture. After noticing how often diners appeared more engaged in their phones than in their company at Hearth, Canora began placing pretty vintage boxes and old tobacco tins on tables to encourage people to put their phones away. Each box, decorated with the words "open me," includes a note inviting diners to "unplug" and "connect with your fellow diners" by hiding phones in the box, reports Eater. The James Beard award-winning chef says about 60% of diners have obliged—and the change in atmosphere is "remarkable."
Not only does the box become a topic of conversation, but the removal of phones from the dinner table allows guests to better connect with each other—something that is far more important to Canora than having photos of his food spread around Instagram, the chef says. "If you don't want to do it, don't," says Canora. But "if there’s one time in the 24 hours in your day that’s a time to engage with the person you’re with, it makes sense to me that it’s around the dinner table." Overall, he says, "I think people are digging it." Other restaurants are trying out similar strategies, though not all are as lenient as Hearth. At Au Petit Jardin in southern France, diners caught using their phones after an initial warning are given the boot, reports the Local. "People accept having to turn their phones off when they go to the cinema or the theater so why not restaurants?" the owner says.