A restaurateur is on a mission to bring the art of conversation back to the dinner table – by locking up his customer’s mobile phones.
Scott Learmonth, owner of 7 Sins in Montrose, wants to bring the sound of chat and laughter back to his bar and restaurant by banishing devices from the table.
For every diner who agrees to drop their phone into a locked box for the duration of their meal, a 10 per cent discount will be added to the bill.
Mr Learmonth came up with the idea after noticing the dramatic effect social media was having on the dining experience.
He said: “Most of our clientele are younger and when they are in for food, they tend to sit at the table on their phones. The restaurant can be packed, every table is full, but there is silence. Not a single word is being spoken.
“I just find that really bizarre. People are just not speaking, they are not interacting.
“I usually work in the kitchen, but I was out front doing a couple of shifts and I really noticed it, noticed this change. I just want to bring some conversation back to the table.”
Mr Learmonth said there had been an “incredible” reaction to his campaign, which launches at the restaurant on Friday.
He said: “There have been so many positive comments and it is clear other people feel the same. I have had grannies say to me they bring their grandkids in for an ice cream on a Sunday and then spend most of that time looking at the back of their phones.
“There was a couple who came in the other night on a first date and they sat on their phones all the way through it. That was when we really decided to try something a little bit new.”
With social media a natural haven for those out and about enjoying themselves, Mr Learmonth said he recognises the positive effect that sharing photographs and good comments about his business can have.
To counter any potential loss of profile, he has hired photographers to capture his customers’ nights out, with the images sent on to diners so they can share them online. Customers will also be given the option of sending the business phone number and their table number out to anyone who might need it before handing over their phone.
Mr Learmonth, who has also been stocking up on board games for the restaurant, has owned the 7 Sins property since he was 16, but took a break from the venue between 2012 and 2017.
He said: “The pub market has changed so much. When I left in 2012, social media was around, but it wasn’t massive. Facebook wasn’t huge. You could still go out and have a conversation. I just find the whole thing quite strange. The way people act in a restaurant is totally different.”
Mr Learmonth said he was also driven to act given the social media habits of his three children, who are aged ten, 11 and 12.
“They live on their phones,” he said. “If I want to know what they are up to, I look on Facebook. Their life is on their phones and we never really get a conversation out of them.”
But while the reaction from the public to the campaign has been overwhelmingly positive, his toughest customers might well be found closer to home.
“They just shook their head and said ‘don’t expect me to be doing that’,” he said.