Aug. 16, 2012 at 5:06 PM ET
A California restaurant’s offer to give diners 5 percent discounts if they check in their cell phones is proving to be popular — so popular, in fact, that the owner joked he may go bankrupt.
“Last night, 70 percent of the folks turned in their phones,” Mark Gold told TODAY.com on Thursday.
Gold is the chef and owner of Eva Restaurant, an intimate family eatery in Los Angeles. The business began offering the discount about two months ago, putting a small notice at the bottom of its menu:
“Welcome to Eva. We want you to feel comfortable in our home. If you would like to leave your cell phone with our receptionist, we will give you 5 percent off your bill tonight.”
Diners may either leave their phones with the hostess when they walk in, or they may hand their devices to their server.
Gold said the policy is less about annoying diners with other people’s cell phone chatter, but more about creating an environment where people could connect with each other.
“Eva is like a home. We only have 42 seats and we want people have a really nice experience here. And if two people are texting instead of talking to each other, it takes away from that,” he said.
Customer Malhar Pagay didn’t take advantage of the deal Wednesday evening, but that’s because he thought it was too late to check his phone in by the time he saw the note on the menu. A regular at Eva’s, he said loud or disrespectful cell phone use hasn’t been a problem any of the times he’s dined at the restaurant.
“This is just a tiny discount, but I don’t think that’s the driving force,” Pagay told TODAY.com. "Someone is actually taking a position about how you should enjoy your dinner and the company you’re with. It’s revolutionary. ... Every meeting I go to now, every restaurant I eat at, the etiquette these days is that it’s OK to throw your phone down at the table.”
Initially, about one-third of Eva's customers took advantage of the deal. As a means to drum up business, Gold called a popular area blog and mentioned his special discount. The publication, Eater L.A., ran a blurb on the incentive Friday. Eater's online reaction has ranged from “Brilliant,” and “Very clever. I have never been to this restaurant but this would an incentive to try the place,” to “Stoopid ... 5% is peanuts ... I'll keep my phone and use common sense discretion, thank you.”
Technology has become inevitable in restaurants, with smart phones and tablets a constant presence at tables. Gold hasn’t received any negative response so far, although he said one diner gave a half-apology for needing his phone with him because he was a doctor.
“And that was fine, because that’s not what it’s about,” Gold said. “It’s really about a couple on date night, or a family sitting down with their kids without an iPad. You don’t have family dinners any more. It’s really been taken away from us.”
Pagay said he applauds Gold's effort.
“He's connecting people,” he said. “And maybe he's trying to save dinner, one cell phone at a time.”
Eun Kyung Kim is a contributor to TODAY.com. She may or may not be one of those mothers who uses a cell phone to silence her children at restaurants while waiting for meals.
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