Eleven Madison Park, one of the country’s most celebrated restaurants, took a small step toward restoring dining-room civility last month. The eatery now offers diners little wooden boxes in which to place their cellphones during meals. The idea, chef/owner Daniel Humm posted on Instagram, is to encourage guests “to enjoy the company of those at the table and be just a bit more present with one another.”
Of course, Instagram and similar photo-sharing sites are themselves the problem. Humm was too polite to say he wanted to banish camera flashes around the room during a $1,000-for-two meal. Not to mention annoying phone jabber with one’s mother/boss/ex-lover that assaults your ears just as you’re about to dig into mushroom butter-poached lobster with a chanterelle mushroom tart.
In my around-town munching rounds, I’m routinely blinded by phone flashlights and deafened by talk that should remain private. Recently I was subjected to a phone harangue at Marea by a woman at the next table, demanding her son recount his every movement over the last 24 hours. My food at Gabriel Kreuther turned cold when a friend insisted on first shooting every morsel over and over.
But don’t blame millennials or tourists for turning dining rooms into street-corner rumpuses — the enemy is all of us.
A rep for Eleven Madison Park said 50 percent of diners boxed their phones at the outset and now it’s up to 70 percent. The boxes are removed from tables unless customers insist on keeping them.
EMP is the first restaurant in its 3-Michelin-star class to offer the “service.” A handful of less expensive places, including Drew Nieporent’s Batard in Tribeca and Marco Canora’s Hearth in the East Village, merely “discourage” cellphone use. The only place I could find that outright forbids them on tables is Il Triangolo, an Italian spot in Corona.