An Idea Whose Time Has Come – Unfortunately
I'm old. And every day I feel a little older. No, I'm healthy, wealthy, and wise enough.......well, two out of three ain't bad. That's not the problem. What makes me feel old is living in a time in which we actually have to tell people things like the fact that it's not safe to text and drive. Imagine my best creaky, cranky Grandpa voice here: “In my day, people were smart enough to know that you can't write a letter and drive a car at the same time.” Young whippersnappers! Today, not only do you have to tell people basic common sense stuff like that, but you actually have to convince them of its veracity! It boggles the mind and makes me wonder where we, as a society, are headed. Of course, I've been wondering that since the first label I read on a frozen pizza that said, “Cook before eating.” Or the one on the back of the cardboard windshield sunscreen that said, “Remove before driving.” Signs of the times.
Now fast food chicken chain Chick-fil-A has hatched an idea whose time has come – unfortunately. I say “unfortunately” because it is a sad reflection on modern times that such an idea has even to be conceived, much less implemented. “Why, in my day.......” Oh, never mind.
A franchise operator in Georgia got a little concerned when he noticed that families were coming into his restaurants firmly attached to their cell phones. Look around; you'll see it every day. Families and groups of friends go to a restaurant, order their food, pull out their phones, and proceed to totally ignore one another. And that's not the way it's supposed to be. Eating together is supposed to be the ultimate act of communion. Why do you think churches use that word for the sacramental sharing of bread? You come together to eat, to share, to converse, to commune. You're not supposed to sit there with your nose stuck to a screen checking Facebook or playing Candy Crush. You're there with other people. Be a person, for gawdsake, not just an organic extension of an electronic device. Why do you find it necessary to “connect” with a “friend” on the other side of the planet when you can't connect with the one sitting on the other side of the table? And why do old people like me have to explain that? “Back in my day.......”
Anyway, this Chick-fil-A franchisee came up with a plan to combat this rampant cybertronic isolation. He invented what he calls the “Cell Phone Coop.” Basically, it's a cardboard box, dressed up with printed chicken wire, that sits on the table. The front of the box says, “Chick-fil-A Family Challenge.” Printed on the sides are the instructions: “How the Challenge Works: 1. Turn all family cell phones to silent and place in this cell phone coop. 2. Enjoy your Chick-fil-A meal and each other distraction free. 3. After the meal, let us know that you have successfully completed the challenge and each of you will receive a small Icedream cone.”
"We really want our restaurant to provide a sense of community for our customers, where family and friends can come together and share quality time with one another," Georgia operator Brad Williams explains.
The idea has caught on. Williams estimates that about ninety percent of customers who attempt the "cell phone coop challenge" are successful. A few fall short. He cites the example of the family who tried the challenge but failed when one of the kids just had to send a text during the meal. But the father assured him the family would return the following week and try again. And the concept has spread within the chain. At last count, nearly two hundred Chick-fil-A locations around the country have embraced the cell phone coop.
The notion of paying people to stay off their damn phones for a few minutes is not entirely new. Some restaurants have long offered discounts to patrons who leave their devices at the door. Other establishments just appeal to a rapidly disappearing sense of etiquette and propriety by posting signs asking diners to turn off or silence their phones. Pandering to greed is usually more successful.
And that's strange because a recent Pew Research survey indicates that only thirty-eight percent of respondents approve of cell phone use in restaurants. Meaning that sixty-two percent of old fuddy duddies like me think such behavior is crass and ill-mannered. And yet the problem persists.
So, inasmuch as I believe it to be a sad reflection of the times in which we live, I suppose the societal reeducation process has to begin somewhere and if it requires outright bribery, whether through discounts or desserts, then so be it. Hooray for Chick-fil-A. May their coops remain full and their Icedream machines empty.
Now let's see if some enterprising movie theater operator can come up with a similar scheme.