Digital Blonde’s experiment - which saw diners use their phones at the table before being asked to put them in a box for the rest of the evening - also discovered that diners showed noticeable levels of anger and anxiety at the thought of not being able to share their evening, while others described feelings of relief and contentment once the phones were put away and felt that they were able to talk more freely.
Psychologist Stephanie Davies, chief executive of Laughology, said that the presence of mobile phones at the table can cause diners stress.
“The presence of mobile phones, particularly when out on a table causes us a constant, low-level emotional stress. The numerous notifications and noises target the reward part of our brains and we’ll check our phones regularly in search of this,” she said.
“So it’s not surprising that people initially felt a high level of stress when asked to give up their phones during the dining experience. However as this low-level stress generated by the presence of a mobile device started to subside, it was fascinating to see that people begun to relax.”
Impact on the industry
Although 70 per cent of diners involved in the experiment said that they did not want to see a mobile phone ban in restaurants, 80 per cent felt that they should put their phones away at the table; guests missed being able to Google relevant conversation points and being able to share their dining experience on Twitter and Instagram.
Researchers found that by removing mobile phones, diners spoke more about the food and its flavours and smells, something they say that they would not normally have done. Every participant agreed that conversation flowed better without phones and the majority said that they felt a deeper connection with each other than they would with phones present.
Karen Fewell, founder of Digital Blonde and Food Market School said that the hospitality industry needs to find a balance.
“For brands, marketers, chefs and hospitality professionals there is a lot to think about. Social media can be great for spreading awareness and interacting with customers, but if it’s desensitising and decreasing a guest’s overall enjoyment, somehow, a balance needs to be struck,” she said.
Sharing can be “damaging”
Peter Lloyd, executive chef at Spice Market, said how images shared online do not portray the dish accurately.
“I do find the photos the public share can be damaging. Low level lighting and phone shadow often mean user photos on Instagram or Tripadvisor do not portray a dish accurately at all. I constantly post my own photos to try and balance this out,” he said.
“At the same time, I recognise social media for the powerful force that it is, in other overseas parts of our business they actually try and encourage diners to take better photos of their food, with competitions and prizes for the best photographs.”
“Time and a place” for social media
Current National Chef of the Year, Russell Bateman, said that he isn’t sure whether or not social media use has had a direct effect on the industry.
“The Digital Blonde debate was both thought provoking and a real eye-opener, it is very hard to judge whether social media has directly affected our business. I know social media is now an accepted tool for communication across all age ranges and depending on the company and experience almost a necessity in some circles,” he said.
“However, the evening following the panel debate I dined at a very nice restaurant, with nine other gentlemen. Not once during the whole meal was there a phone on the table. The only time a phone was seen was to check the time because of transport organisation. It goes to show that not all people want to use social media all the time. Like everything there is a time and place for its use.”