Having spent the majority of my career as a marketing professional in the restaurant industry I always notice emerging restaurant trends. I love really good food but as a marketer I am always concerned with customer service and what takes place in the front of the house; the front of the house is the part of the restaurant where the customers are.
One trend that has been developing over the past few years is the intrusion of televisions into more restaurant dining areas. Televisions have always been popular in sports bars, as patrons like to join with friends to watch the game while sharing drinks and bar food with their friends. TVs have also been found in bar sections of many restaurants for the same reason.
However, televisions are becoming the norm in the front of the house in most quick service restaurants (fast food) and midscale restaurants. Unfortunately, TVs have been creeping into fine dining restaurants as well. I find this trend both disappointing and unsettling.
Art of Conversation During Family Meals
For years families have been spending less time speaking with each other during mealtime. When I was growing up in Huntington, Long Island, forty miles east of New York City in the 1950s and 60s, my family always enjoyed eating dinner together in the dining room. We grabbed breakfast and lunch at a small kitchen table when we were home but we always sat down to dinner in the dining room. Dinner was the one time of day that we could always count on to catch up with each other.
There were no electronic distractions to compete with conversation as there are today. My parents would share the events that took place during their day and I would talk about the latest goings on at school, homework assignments, upcoming projects and tests and they would also hear the latest news concerning my friends. Often, friends were welcome at our table and of course they would share as well. TV dinners became popular in the 1950s and we ate them on occasion but never in front of the TV. Dinner in the Selig household was always eaten in the dining room.
By the time my son was born in the late 1970s microwave ovens had become popular and it was becoming much more popular for families to eat their meals while watching television. If somebody didn’t make it home in time for dinner, no problem, just grab a plate of food and nuke it in the microwave for two or three minutes. Dining rooms sat idle for most families with meals being eaten there the few times each year that people entertained extended family or friends.
Tech Usage By Kids
In today’s world it is hard to make it through a meal without several phone calls, texts, social media messages being received on each person’s smartphone. The Wireless Foundation’s website has some sobering facts concerning cellphones and kids. Here are just a few:
- On Average, children are 12.1 years old when they receive their first mobile device.
- 56% of children, age 8 to 12, have a cellphone.
- Among children 8 years of age and younger, 21% use smartphones.
- 37% of teenagers, ages 12 to 17, have a smartphone, an increase from 23% reported in 2011 (reported in 2013).
- 23% of teenagers, ages 12 to 17, have a tablet computer compared to 25 % of adults.
- 51% of high school students carry a smartphone with them to school every day, compared with 28% of middle school students.
- 51% of teens, ages 13 to 17, use social media daily.
Check out the link to the Wireless Foundation’s website at the end of this post for more facts with sources. Many of the statistics are a few years old so expect usage numbers to actually be higher today. Obviously, tech use by adults is robust as well.
I am no enemy of tech by any means. In the early 80s I had the same type computer that Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak saw at Xerox’s PARC research facility in Palo Alto, CA, which gave them the idea to produce the Mac. I text, blog, podcast and I’m addicted to social media and email. I am rarely more than a few feet away from my Mac, iPad or iPhone. My tech usage is much more in line with a member of the millennial generation than my fellow baby boomers.
What concerns me, however, is that today’s families are missing out on the art of conversation around the dinner table. Several years ago I substitute taught for a year and I listened to kids. I found out that many didn’t communicate much with their parents. One high school student told me that I was the first adult to ever speak WITH him (others had just told him what to do and then the “conversation” was over). It is important for parents to stay involved with their kids, catch up on their schoolwork and assignments, get to know their friends and share in their lives. One of the best opportunities to do this is during meals.
It is equally important for couples to stay connected with each other and meals are a logical time to do so. Other times couples may be watching TV, reading, on the phone with family or friends or involved with hobbies. Kids are doing homework, with friends or absorbed in other activities. But meals provide an opportunity for undivided attention for couples and families with kids to let each person share.
Tech Invades Mealtime
Today’s tech can easily invade this precious family time if allowed to do so. Some families have a “no tech during meals” rule but many do not. Between family members being on different schedules for work, school and other activities it is not uncommon for many to only exchange a few comments with some family members for days on end. Personally, I love the no tech rule during meals. My husband, Rodolfo, broke me of answering phone calls during meals whether they are on a landline or my mobile phone.
When dining out tech interruptions are just as enticing, if not more so, than they are at home. The next time you are at a restaurant take a look around you and look at the number of people texting, checking social media and email. You will be astounded. You’ll likely notice more data service usage than actual phone discussions taking place. All such usage is an impediment to conversation.
It has gotten to the point where spending quality time sharing in a restaurant has become as rare as it is at home. This is true whether it is couples out on the town, families eating out or business associates having a meal together.
Randi Zuckerberg – “dot Complicated”
In December 2013 I had the opportunity to meet Facebook Founder, Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s sister, Randi Zuckerberg. Randi was every bit as amazing as her brother. When she spoke at the tech conference Randi introduced herself, “I am the Zuckerberg who actually graduated with a degree from Harvard.” Until 2011 Randi was the Director of Market Development and Spokeswoman for Facebook. In 2011 she started Zuckerberg Media and has produced shows and digital content for a prestigious list of clients. During her presentation she discussed he new book, “dot Complicated: Untangling Our Wired Lives.”
One of my favorite stories Randi shared concerned a group of friends who met at a restaurant. Each person placed their cellphone in a pile in the middle of the table. The friends agreed that the first person to answer their phone had to pay for everybody’s meal. During the meal phones rang but all remained unanswered.
I met Randi after her presentation when she signed my copy “dot Complicated.” I was so impressed with Randi’s presentation that I told her, “When I came here today I was looking forward to hearing Mark Zuckerberg’s sister speak. You were so outstanding that if I ever meet Mark I will say, ‘you must be Randi Zuckerberg’s brother.’” Randi responded with a wide grin. I recommend reading “dot Complicated.”
Impact on Conversation
It is bad enough having to compete with smartphones and even tablets in restaurants these days but with the ongoing invasion of televisions it is almost impossible to keep your tablemates’ attention. You cannot help but notice a TV over the shoulder of the person sitting across from you. Most often there is no sound but it doesn’t matter because your attention is drawn to them against your will whether or not you want it to be.
It is easy enough not to speak with family members when eating at home. Now when we go out to eat it is even easier not to speak with them. I am saddened by the on-going invasion of TVs into restaurants. It is becoming easier to communicate with people via text, video chats and social media than it is in person. I cannot help but wonder what impact these obstacles to in person conversation will have on how we communicate with loved ones, friends and colleagues. How will these trends impact how our children learn, make friends and live their lives?
The Wireless Foundation
Kids wireless usage facts
Information about Randi, Zuckerberg Media and Randi’s book, “dot Complicated: Untangling Our Wired Lives”