Get Ready for the Virtual News Blackout

Old_Ebbitt_GrillRestaurants around the country are trying to discover new ways to get patrons to put down their cell phones while they are dining. In a recent roundtable discussion with some of the top members of the press who cover the restaurant business, I learned that many restaurateurs believe smartphones are ruining the whole dining experience. Restaurant owners are questioning the money they are spending on unique decors, excellent service and special food presentations, when more and more patrons barely notice the extra touches. More often than not, they are so busy talking on the phone or checking emails, they are unaware of their surroundings.

One restaurant in Washington D.C. decided to do something about it. The Old Ebbitt Grill, the “oldest saloon in Washington” is offering customers the opportunity to take a break from their digital devices while they are eating. In return, each customer will be provided with a receipt-sized piece of paper with all the news that occurred while they were eating along with their bill. It is a win-win situation for everyone. You get to eat in peace yet you don’t miss a thing. Associated Press is supplying the news.

The mini newspaper is called “The Latest News,” a service of PrintSignal Corporation, a start-up founded by former NPR president Frank Mankiewicz and States News Service publisher Leland Schwartz. The concept is not entirely new. “The Latest News” is a newspaper service that was printed every hour and handed out to airline passengers 23 years ago so they wouldn’t be in a “news blackout all day.” They do the same thing on cruise ships. Now restaurant owners want to declare a “virtual news blackout,” but they are not sure how many people can survive a meal without multi-tasking at the same time as eating.

Interestingly, people who dine alone are the worst offenders. Back in the day, the single patron would enjoy a meal while gazing into space, relaxing with a cocktail, or making small talk with the wait staff. Today, most people dining alone don’t even realize they don’t have a companion with them. They are so busy texting, posting on Facebook and Twitter, and checking emails, they don’t even have time to have eye contact with the restaurant staff.

All eyes are now on The Old Ebbitt Grill. Maybe an old restaurant can teach us new tricks.


1 thought on “Get Ready for the Virtual News Blackout

  1. Hopefully this obsession with our smartphone toys is a phase we are going through. Sometime in the next five years we should wake up and realize reality is better than our real time feed. We need to live in our own now and ignore the rest of the world a little more often. As far as the dining experience is concerned, I don’t really care if the guy at the next table is more interested in his apps than his appetite, but I hate TV’s in restaurants. If you want to eat in front of the TV, go home!

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