“Where there’s color and sound and movement, your eye fixates on it; not intentionally, it just does that,” said Jonathon Stranger, who, along with business partner Russ Johnson, made a deliberate decision to not include televisions inside Ludivine, 805 N. Hudson.
But he’s one of the only metro restaurateurs committed to being TV-free. From the greasy spoons to the upscale eateries, televisions and restaurants are ubiquitous.
“To me, it’s crazy the amount of television in Oklahoma restaurants,” Stranger said, although he has no idea why it’s so popular.
“Maybe restaurateurs think it’s a draw to have a television, but if you’re opening a restaurant, your draw should be your food and your service and your atmosphere, not your television.”
Why are you watching television instead of being in each other’s company?
Local restaurateur Sean Cummings thought the same thing when he opened Boca Boca. He was new to Oklahoma and refused to have a TV in the place — he realized that might have been a mistake when he had a total of four diners during a Saturday night that coincided with a University of Oklahoma football game.
Although he held out during his successful run with Boca Boca, he ended up putting a television in his new place, Sean Cummings’ Irish Restaurant & Pub, 7523 N. May. The catch? He only shows soccer (and rugby, on occasion), and the sound is often turned off, so diners can talk or listen to the live Irish music.
When looking at the statistics, it is easy to understand why restaurateurs choose to rig up TVs in every corner. According to the most recent available data from Nielsen, 66 percent of Americans watch television while they eat.
But what do we give up by staring at televisions instead of the person across the table?
“It eliminates the personal aspect of dining together,” Stranger said. “You’ve just worked all week. You’re out with your friends. Why are you watching television instead of being in each other’s company?” It can also limit social ability, said Kate Stanton, an etiquette consultant.
“Sadly, dining out is not as special as it once was, thus most dining locations have become very casual,” she said. “Young people are learning their ‘norms’ in these situations and will struggle with etiquette as they interview, date and navigate themselves through socialization.”
She added that how you choose to dine is all a matter of opinion, but there could be consequences for the casualness. “When you don’t get the job you want because of how you portrayed yourself over lunch, you’ll start to realize it does matter.”
Of course, bars are a different beast, and no one is about to lead a charge to do away with TVs in sports bars. But even in there, consider this: “How many times have you been in a bar where there’s television, and you see a group of people playing on their iPhones and watching the television and not even talking together,” Stranger said.
“You know they made a point of going there together, but what was the point of that if you’re not even going to interact?” Some metro diners agree. Sean McClintock said he won’t return to a local restaurant after he experienced a dinner unfortunately complemented by televisions in every booth.
“There’s no need for a TV in every booth,” he said. “Sports bars are about TVs; (restaurants) should be about food and conversation.”
And it’s not just the presence of the television, but what is being broadcast.
Brian Winkeler, owner of Robot House Creative, said he was not exactly happy to visit a local pizzeria to see Fox News on the TVs.
“Even without sound, I lost IQ points … I haven’t been back,” he said.
And during a recent trip to McDonald’s, he said CNN was playing in the dining area, while “Steppin’ Out,” by Joe Jackson, was playing in the restroom. “Why can’t I just hear that while eating?” Winkeler said. “I despise TVs in non-sports bar restaurants. Give me music as background for conversation.”
Stranger summed it up: “Dining and eating with your friends and family should be an event; it shouldn’t just be a quick bite to eat.”
So you’re not going to stare at the screen. Now what?
Kate Stanton, a metro etiquette consultant, said to think of it this
way: The DVR is always available to record television, but there’s no
DVR for time with family or friends.
“Our time with loved ones are never promised,” she said. “Seize the moment. Put down the phone. Talk.
The opportunity to make a memory are not always available for a replay.”
With all this new free time, diners might actually have to talk.
Stanton has some tips: “Weekend plans, family updates, best vacation,
best/worst date, if you won the lottery, favorite childhood memories —
(those) can usually get a table talking.”
—Jenny Coon Peterson
Photo illustration by Mark Hancock