nick strangeway

Could bars be no-phone zones?

25 October, 2021

For about six hours in early October the world was brought to a standstill. However, it wasn’t the outbreak of a global pandemic that spread panic, but the simultaneous crash of Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram.

As well as highlighting the danger of a single company controlling the bulk of social media, the blackout left much of the developed world in darkness, without the ability to communicate on-demand. It was incredibly tedious, but from a bartender’s point of view it was refreshing. It meant people weren’t distracted by their screens and were able to simply enjoy their drinks with their friends or, dare I say it, strangers on the barstools next to them.

I think the crash highlighted the dependence we have on our phones. They’ve become integral to our night out – we use them to choose and book the bar, pick our drinks through QR menus, take and share pictures and even pay. It’s amazing. But call me old fashioned, because at the same time I’m sick of them. So much that I think there’s scope for a bar to embrace no-phone policies. 

Obviously it would be foolish to ban them completely, as I just mentioned how important they are from a practical perspective, plus the importance of Instagram fame means you want people to take pictures. But in my opinion, phones should be treated the same as cigarettes, if you need to use them then go outside, because ultimately when you’re sat there staring at your screen then you’re not adding to the atmosphere – in fact you’re probably taking it away.

Tato Giovannoni’s new place Abajo in London is a perfect example. The almost pitch-black basement bar with light-up coasters has made it one of the most Instagrammed in 2021, but I find it offputting seeing ghostly faces constantly lit up by screens. I think the drinks are great and the bar has a great concept, I just wish people would savour the experience rather than living it through their phones.

One crude solution would be to turn your WiFi off from about 8pm until closing, but perhaps just reminding guests not to leave their phones on the table or even banning them during happy hour would add to the vibes. I also think the element of mystique is taken away by social media. Back in the ’90s you only heard about things through the press or world of mouth, whereas now you can virtually experience a bar and everything on the menu without ever going, which is a shame in some regards.

I’m not for a second advocating the banning of phones from bars, but I do think there’s a case for striking a better balance between using them for practical reasons and simply staring at them endlessly.

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