Restaurant chain offers to lock customers’ phones away

TO GOWITH AFP STORY BY Karine ALBERTAZZI et Isabelle TOUSSAINT 
A man takes a picture of his meal with his mobile phone to share it on the "Food Reporters" network on July 19, 2012 during his lunch in a restaurant in Paris. "Food Reporters" is a culinary social network accessible via a smartphone application and a website.  AFP PHOTO / ANA AREVALO        (Photo credit should read ANA AREVALO/AFP/Getty Images)

A small South-East restaurant group plans to offer customers free use of what it is calling a ‘phonetentiary’ – a penitentiary for phones in order to encourage conversations.

The Tea Terrace chain, which operates three restaurants and cafes at House of Fraser department stores in London and Guildford, dreamed up the idea after noticing how many customers were spending all their time on their phones.

The Phonetentiary is a small box with a combination lock which will be offered to customers to use at their tables.

The box looks like a normal book on the outside and has a concealed compartment for the phones under the book cover. “We wanted it not to look out of place at the dining table so made it in the shape of a book”, explained managing director Ehab Shouly.

Only the waiting staff of The Tea Terrace know the combination lock number. Guests can put their phones on silent mode and lock them in the Phonetentiary for the duration of their meal or until they request their server to open it for them.

The Phonetentiary stays at the guests’ table at all times and its use is free of charge.

The idea behind this is to encourage customers to have more quality conversations at the breakfast, lunch or dinner table away from the digital distractions of their smart phones.

“We want to bring back good old conversations,” added Rowena Shouly, director of The Tea Terrace. “Very often we see guests, especially families with tweens or teenagers, not engaging in conversation because the children are on their smart phones. Or sometimes friends would be busy posting photos of themselves at our tea rooms or their food or our lovely throne chairs on social media. We want to offer them a chance to really engage with each other more.”

The Phonetentiary will also be available for customers to buy to take home with them in case they want to try this social experiment at home to see if it helps create better quality time for the family.

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