You may have read or heard about the recent “anonymous Craig’s list post” making its way around the internet that says a review of surveillance tapes in 2004 compared with 2014 indicated that the perceived declines in service quality in 2014 is attributable to customer pre-occupation with their phones especially involving servers with photo taking. As a restaurant owner or manager you may be grappling with the invasion of pervasive photo taking, uploading, texting, updates and check-ins into the dining experience.
Yes, phone use in restaurants slow down service, impinge the dining experience and are simply annoying to restaurant management, servers and other guests. Yet, smartphones are so prevalent in our daily lives that 1 in 10 Americans admit to using their cellphones during sex. and according to a recent article in Psychology Today, 40% of the population suffers from nomophobia, the fear of being without a smartphone. In other words, people are not going to let go of their phone in your restaurant. But you can make phone use in your restaurant win-win.
So, the first step in how to make mobile phones in restaurants win-win is to accept this fact: people have integrated phones into their very existence. The next step is to integrate phones seamlessly into the dining experience. Yes, turn the tables (no pun intended) on the negativity and turn those awkward, annoying attempts at Kodak moments and social media fame on the part of your customers into a positive, even enhanced dining experience for them. The result will be win win.
3 ways to make phone use in your restaurant win-win
1. Take control. If you know your customers are likely to want a photo of themselves and/or their food, design a sequence into the customer dialogue so that the host/hostess, maitre de or server are trained to initiate, orchestrate, and even execute the photo taking process so that the “set-up” (time, required movements, etc) is not disruptive to the ordering and serving process and the final “product” looks good in a single quick “take.”
2. Design for intent. The physical design of your restaurant can determine behavior. According to David Rockwell restaurant designer for celebrity chefs such as Gordon Ramsey and Nobu Matsuhisa, “a restaurant’s environment can be almost as important as the food….the plan of a restaurant “establishes circulation, how quickly the food can get to the table and how warm it is.”
If you have been to a Disney park, you may recall those “Kodak photo spot” signs that recommend taking photos at various “picture perfect” spots. Consider designing a spot (0r two) into your restaurant for people to take selfies. If you can afford it, staff it with someone to take photos. The spot should be out of the way of getting the food to the table quickly and hot, where lighting is the best, and the background is not only controlled but features an appropriate visual for your restaurant and a hashtag with your restaurant’s name or something you are known for, e.g. #bbq, #bestburgers.
3. Encourage social sharing. All those photos represent content for your restaurant. As Todd Thrasher of PX in Alexandria Virginia noted in a recent article in USA Today, “when customers take photos of his cocktails and upload them to Instagram or Facebook, it’s free advertising. These people are paying me and doing social media for me. It’s the greatest thing ever for me.”
Have your staff actively suggest sharing photos on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. Have them send customers to your website in real time on their phones where you are showcasing customer uploads.
There are many articles online that discuss the negatives of phone use in restaurants but let’s face it, like it or not it’s not going to go away. Better to spend one’s time embracing rather than resisting and make it work for you and your customers.