Pointing out customers' bad habits is a risky strategy for a hospitality business. But as a way of drumming up free publicity, the No Phone Zone at Frankie and Benny's, an "American-Italian"-style chain restaurant in the UK, could hardly be bettered. For a trial week until December 7 (they have to be realistic, after all) the chain has introduced a scheme across its 250 outlets encouraging parents to put away their mobiles and actually talk to their children. Diners who surrender their phones to staff for the meal will be rewarded with free food for any children under 14. If it proves popular they say they will consider making it a permanent fixture.
We lecture children about iPad addiction even as our thumbs twitch to refresh our Facebook feed. Credit:Shutterstock
It's a newsworthy idea because it strikes a guilty chord in every parent. Loudly as we decry the screen addiction of the young, we are the ones with the problem. In a poll commissioned by Frankie and Benny's, more than 70 per cent of children said they wished their parents would spend less time on the phone. One in 10 had hidden a parent's device in order to get their attention.
Smartphones have made barefaced hypocrites of my generation. We lecture children about iPad addiction even as our thumbs twitch to refresh our Facebook feed. We worry about teenage cyber-bullying while shouting each other down on Twitter. "Your brain will turn to mush!" we chide the little ones, peeling them away from Peppa Pig; yet the average adult spends almost three hours a day staring at a smartphone. Some is unavoidable. Parents have a lot of organising to do, and almost all – arranging playdates, paying for school trips, signing up to ballet classes – is done digitally. Most of the time, when I pick up the phone, it is to get something done. To my children, though, it makes no odds whether I'm buying their Christmas presents or scrolling through Instagram (and let's face it, one thing does tend to lead to another). The blank, blue-lit face I present to them is just the same.
Not long ago, my children asked if they could impose a new house rule: no phones in the kitchen. My husband and I exchanged panicky looks, but the motion was passed. And although I can't claim a spotless record (the children, like diminutive parking attendants, love slapping us with $2 fines), it has been a chastening experience. Sometimes you have to let wiser heads, on younger shoulders, prevail.
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