Craigslist post starts debate over mobile phones in restaurants

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Smartphones and other mobile devices are a huge part of modern life, but how do they change a customer's restaurant experience? While employees usually have to stow away their personal devices to take customers' orders, wait on them or otherwise offer customer service, customers frequently use their phones throughout the dining experience. A recent Craigslist post went viral discussing how smartphones have changed service in one New York City restaurant between 2004 and 2014. 

The post explained that customers spend an average of 50 minutes longer at the restaurant because of time spent taking photos of their food, surfing the Web rather than reading the menu and being otherwise distracted by the devices. The post quickly gained a lot of traction, being covered by the Washington Post, BBC and other major news outlets. 

Following the initial coverage, the Craigslist post was taken down and online news sources such as Slate and Cracked pointed out the flaws of the unsubstantiated report. Although the initial source material may not be true, and people don't necessarily spend 50 minutes more at sit-down restaurants than they used to, Slate explained that the post started a conversation about the pros and cons of mobile devices among customers. 

"Smartphones … might be a bit annoying, but on the whole restaurants agree that they're more of a boon to business than a hindrance – and certainly not the impediment the Craigslist post made them out to be," the online news magazine explained. 

How to deal with mobile devices in your restaurant 
As the controversial Craigslist post became popular, many restaurant managers have discussed their own unique policies of dealing with mobile devices in their establishments. While some high-end establishments have banned the use of mobile devices in the dining area altogether, most casual and traditional restaurants may do better to adapt to the ways that mobile devices have changed customer interaction. Here are a few tips for how restaurant managers can embrace their tech-savvy diners and hopefully create repeat customers with superb service. 

Offer a charging area 
There's no better way to embrace customers' phones than by offering to charge them. Most diners likely won't need to have their phones or mobile devices recharged, but following work or later in the day many people are looking for a little extra juice before they make it home. Some waiters have resisted when customers ask to have their phones charged because it creates another task that takes away from their serving capabilities, as well as danger of the device being dropped or damaged.

Restaurant Business recommended that restaurants provide an area, perhaps a shelf or another surface, that has electrical outlets and USB ports. For customers on long trips, this charge will be greatly appreciated. Those who don't need it will still appreciate it as a unique feature of the restaurant. 

Flesh out your Yelp profile 
Of course, you can't control what people write on review sites like Yelp, other than through offering excellent service and great food. But, as a restaurant manager, you can go on the site and build a robust and complete profile of your business. Social Media Examiner suggested that restaurants go on the popular social media site and provide a phone number, photographs, a link to the website and other helpful information. This may help attract new business to your establishment among mobile users as well as present a more attractive page to those looking at your reviews. 

Promote other social media and apps 
There are plenty of mobile apps, like Diner Connection, Belly and Tabbedout, that restaurant managers can use to their advantage for making reservations and even paying for meals. When diners come into your restaurant and are on their phones the whole time, talk about these tech-savvy apps. Create a digital bond between your establishment and their devices. It will make your establishment feel modern and unique. 

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