May 24th

On the Menu: Tech-Free Dining

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Last weekend I was visiting Coronado Island in California with two of my brothers. During a live, interesting lecture on the history of the gorgeous Hotel del Coronado, I found myself letting my mind wander a moment. I startled myself back into the present and wondered what I’d missed the speaker say. For a moment I thought, “I’ll just rewind what she said.” Of course, I instantly realized that wasn’t possible and chuckled to myself that I had imagined “rewinding” the moment. This experience reminded me about the importance of being fully present.

Sometimes we’re distracted simply because it’s natural for our brains to involuntarily take a pause now and again. That’s OK.

But sometimes we make choices that keep us separated from what’s going on around us.

When we’re at home there are many things to distract us. We can barely keep up with the variety of things we need to do. Add to that, there are many options for entertainment via electronics and hand-held devices.

New e-accessories are hitting the market allowing us to use our tech tools in places where we didn’t use them before. There’s a new bathroom accessory—a standing toilet paper holder equipped with an added space to fit your iPad, or other tablet. Recently I saw an ad for a small tech device holder with a flexible ‘arm’ which attaches by a large clip to your bed’s headboard so you can play Words with Friends while lying your head on your pillow. Another advertisement showed an iPhone holder clip attached to a baby’s crib (similar to where a baby’s nursery mobile would hang). Talk about orienting your kids to technology from birth!

Given I promote sharing meals, one accessory which caught my attention was a cereal bowl/iPhone holder. I had a sobering vision of a young kid sitting alone at a table, scarfing down Froot Loops, while a tiny-screened rerun of A.N.T. Farm was all that was keeping him company.

You may find having access to technology wherever and whenever is appealing to you. We each have to decide what’s comfortable for us.

I offer that we all need meaningful interaction every day with another person to offset the sometimes isolating effects of our digital world.

There’s a growing trend to find ways to stay present in the moment, and to pay attention to the people around us. One type of activity to achieve this kind of interpersonal connection is a daily shared meal.

Among many benefits, sharing meals offers us the chance to listen, relate, communicate, socialize, bond, and practice being human. No matter how sophisticated a device you may have, it can’t replace the quality experience you will have person-to-person.

Do yourself a giant favor and fully enjoy the experience of a meal by leaving the technology aside. Who really wants to hear someone’s phone go off in the middle of sharing the story of how her boyfriend proposed to her, or recalling the highlights of a summer trip to France?

Try some of these ideas:

  • Create a sign in your dining area that says “Tech-free Zone” (any kind of sign will do; the point is to state your desire to have an uninterrupted meal together).
  • Clear the dining table of all laptops, computers, portable video games, etc.
  • Place a basket outside the dining area, and ask your family and friends to leave their smartphones there during the duration of the meal (keep the ringers and vibrations silent).
  • Turn off the TV (even if it is in another room, nearby)
  • Select some background music (perhaps something to fit the theme of the food being served).


You can also create a little incentive to be tech-free at meals by using these rules:

  • When dining in the home (which I strongly recommend to do most frequently), the first person who tries to retrieve his tech device during the meal cleans the dishes.
  • If you’re dining out, put all your cell phones (sounds off) in the middle of the table. The first one who reaches for his phone pays for everyone’s meal.


techfree1When you’re done with the meal, ask the people you’ve dined with how it felt to just be with each other, in conversation, device-free.  Ask for agreement that you will do this at your next and future meals.

If it seems tough at first, stick with it.

Remember, life is not a youtube video. We can’t “rewind the tape” on important moments.   We need to be fully present to experience them.

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