Are Smartphones, iPads, and Laptops Ruining Restaurants?

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Are Smartphones, iPads, and Laptops Ruining Restaurants?

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The short attention span and constant need for stimuli resulting from advanced technologies are stealing the real and potentially meaningful moments from so many lives.

Jasper White, a member of The Daily Meal Council, was a pioneering "new American" chef in Boston, and is today chef–partner of the Summer Shack restaurants and partner in Georges Bank, LLC, a wholesale boat-to-table seafood operation. 

The other night at my restaurant in Cambridge, I witnessed a baby crying at a table where a family of five was seated. The mother handed a cell phone to the baby, who couldn’t have been much more than a year old. It worked; the baby stopped crying. It also broke my heart that a mechanical device could so easily replace the love and affection that the child obviously needed. The cell phone had, in this case, replaced the hug. My vision of families sharing good food and spending quality time together has not come to fruition in many cases. And it’s not because of the food or the environment; it is because of cell phones, pads, pods, and laptops — and the hyperactive culture that these devices have fostered.

I started my group of Summer Shack restaurants in 2000, when my kids were 7, 9, and 12. My years of experience dining out with my kids were part of the inspiration for these restaurants, places that are fun and casual, that accommodate large groups, families, and people out to have a good time while eating fresh seafood and other simple foods. At first, I didn’t even offer a kids' menu in hopes that families would just order up a bunch of dishes and share. The Summer Shacks have become very popular restaurants, with a good portion of the business coming from families with babies, children, and teens.

I have been in the restaurant business over 40 years now, the first 25 spent in fine dining. Over the last 15 years, I have witnessed disturbing and profound changes in the behavior of the dining public. My vision of families sharing good food and spending quality time together has not come to fruition in many cases. And it’s not because of the food or the environment; it is because of cell phones, pads, pods, and laptops — and the hyperactive culture that these devices have fostered.

It is very common to see a family with kids, each operating a cellphone — no one talking to each other — or two parents talking with two kids watching stuff on an iPad or laptop or playing games on a cellphone. This phenomenon is not limited to babies, young kids, and teens. I often see couples (mostly under 50) sitting, one on the phone, the other looking dejected or both on their phones, as distracted as the young ones. And it’s not random, it is prevalent.

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