As general manager of The Florentine at the JW Marriott Hotel, Amanda Kipp had seen this scene play out a million times before: moments when diners should have been concentrating on the food in front of them and the company around them, but instead had their eyes affixed to their phones. Although rampant, the problem didn’t fully hit home until she dined at another restaurant. “I went out to eat, and I was looking around the room and saw a blue glow on everyone’s faces,” she recalls. “It was at that moment that I knew I wanted to figure out a way to get people engaging with their guests more than they were engaging with their phones.”
So in March, the Italian-themed Florentine began offering a digital-free option for guests both social and corporate. In essence, diners check in their smartphone just as they would their winter coat. While they dine, their devices are hooked into a secure charging station under lock and key, which allows them to complete their meal with undivided attention while retrieving a fully charged phone on their way out the door.
“It’s tough because people’s phones are like their security blankets,” says Kipp of the initial reaction to the program, which has gained interest from about 25 percent of guests. “We have had more of a response from business diners compared to social diners who want to keep their phone at their sides so they can Instragram a picture of their meal. In actuality, the business crowd actually seems to appreciate it more.”
Logging Off and Tuning In
A recent study by Pew Research shows that more than 91 percent of adults own a cell phone and use it religiously to do everything from text (81 percent), surf the Internet (60 percent), check email (52 percent) and download apps (50 percent). Because of this alarming trend, digital devices from iPhones to Androids to BlackBerrys are becoming more and more discouraged in venues across the Chicagoland area. In recent years, restaurants, spas and many hotels have come up with ways to break the connection between person and device simply by offering unique options as a trade-off. For example, Kimpton’s Hotel Monaco Chicago offers guests a two-room Tranquility Suite, where they have the option for a Black Out Digital Detox package that swaps their gadgets upon check-in for amenities such as in room massage rollers, sleep masks and towel warmers.
“We were constantly hearing from guests how they loved that the Monaco was an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, so when we renovated our guest rooms in 2010, we wanted to take that feeling to the next level with the Black Out Digital Detox by forfeiting all electronics with our front desk,” explains General Manager Marco Scherer. “Many guests have commented that they appreciate the serenity after a hectic day in business meetings or a tiring afternoon of sightseeing.”
And research shows that a committed digital detoxer can not only sleep better at night, but can also be more vibrant and alert once daytime rolls around, which is crucial to job performance and event engagement.
Getting Events to Power Down
While the digital detox trend is slowly taking hold within the public sphere, its effectiveness within the private space still remains to be seen, especially considering that in recent years, many conferences and events have encouraged individuals to utilize social media to promote the cause by sharing photos and using hashtags.
“While it seems like a good idea for event visibility, the reality is that no one was engaged while the function was happening,” explains Michelle Durpetti, event planner and owner of Michelle Durpetti Events. “Many attendees would have their heads down, focused on their phones and missing out on participating in the actual activities.”
The industry veteran says many of her wedding clients have gone as far as creating signage that says, “Please kindly put your phones away and enjoy our ceremony with us,” and she hopes more businesses within the event planning industry eventually follow suit. Some examples include offering a takeaway gift bag with a card that reminds guests of the official hashtags and Twitter, Facebook and Instagram handles, perhaps even creating contests for the best “latergrams” to promote the idea.
“I think in today’s world, it really depends on what kind of event it is, and what the host’s goals are for their attendees,” Durpetti concludes. “As an event producer, I ask my clients this question right away so that I know from the beginning exactly what they would like for the overall guest experience.”