Disconnecting from your phone while dinning at Hearth is completely up to you.
The 13-year-old Lower East Side restaurant Hearth now matches its linens and glassware to old-fashioned cigar boxes adorned with “Open Me!” signs that invite guests to deposit their phones during meals. The boxes are the restaurant’s James Beard award-winning chef’s, Marco Canora, solution to modern technology’s disruption of the dining experience.
“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,” Canora told Eater.
Canora told the foodie site that he, personally, doesn’t mind if people pull out their devices while eating at his restaurant but after tracking his own usage via an app, he was alarmed by how many hours he spent staring at a screen and decided to offer his customers a way to unplug. Unlike other eateries that have established phone bans or offer discounts to voluntary cord-cutters, Hearth’s phone boxes are merely a suggestion.
“The hope is that you sit down, you get your menus, and then you’re like, ‘What is this box?'” Canora said. “And then you open the box and there’s this very simple note. If you want to do it you can do it, if you don’t want to do it, don’t. It’s just a box on the table that’s there if you want it.”
And the note reads, “We’d like to invite you to unplug during your meal here at Hearth. Feel free to use this box, put your phone away, and connect with your fellow diners.”
Canora said that his staff mentioned that if people didn’t have their phones in-hand then they were less likely to post social media snaps of their meals, negating that source of free advertising that has become so important to restaurants.
“We are all willing to sacrifice that,” he said. “I feel that this is remarkable, and they’ll hopefully talk about the box and talk about their food post meal.”
But, the chef also said that since the addition of the phone boxes, he’s noticed that “six out of 10 times,” people are utilizing the boxes. “I think people are digging it,” he said.
“We’ve been here for 13 years. We want people to have an experience that is calm, and this is the way to help get there.”