LA MESANS LOVE UNPLUGGED DINING

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The next Unplugged Dining event is slated for August 21 at 5 p.m. at these four restaurants:  Fourpenny House Pub, Centifonti's, Trattoria Tiramisu, and San Pasqual Winery Tasting Room, all in La Mesa

East County News Service

July 24, 2018 (La Mesa) -- This past Tuesday, the La Mesa Village had quite a buzz emanating from Fourpenny House Pub.   People came to try out a new concept – unplugged dining.  As there are no TV’s, this cozy Scottish Brew Pub already has less emphasis on screens than many restaurants.  Taking it a step further on Tuesday, Fourpenny offered table games and displayed signs encouraging people to take a tech break while enjoying their meal.

Owner Peter Soutowood, who designed his restaurant with the community in mind, wants to capitalize on the welcoming pub experience he offers.  He was hoping people would enjoy a night where they could connect with one another and not have to talk over TV noise.  One unexpected outcome from the event was that it was NOT a quiet evening.  There was plenty of “good noise,” with lots of people laughing, talking and playing games.

The restaurant crew wasn’t sure what to expect from the night, but the results speak loud and clear.  Fourpenny experienced just over a 50 percent increase in sales from normal Tuesday nights- many of those being newcomers.  In addition, survey results show that half said they came in mainly for the unplugged event, 85 percent enjoyed it and 79 percent said they were likely to attend again.

This is all music to the ears of Soutowood and to Claudia Erickson, who recently founded the Unplugged Village, the organization that spear-headed the event. Erickson thought it would be important to promote venues where people can take a break from their gadgets. According to Common Sense Media, adults now spend over 9 hours a day consuming media. “Tech is really good at distracting us from in-person connections and is designed to be addictive.  Go to any restaurant, airport or waiting room where people are on their phones and chances are good you will get an overwhelming urge to join the pack,” she said. 

It's this urge to pull out your phone that flies in the face of the results from a Pew Research Center survey in 2015.  The survey found that 88 percent of respondents believe it’s generally not okay to use a cell phone during dinner.  Despite these results, walk into almost any restaurant these days and see just the opposite happening.  According to Erickson, “Having an Unplugged Dining event offers a way to support taking a break from tech even if just for an hour.  That’s an hour where you can connect with people, recharge your brain a bit and it can be a really subtle, but powerful thing.” 

“When I started this endeavor recently” Erickson said, “I wasn’t altogether sure where it was headed.  I felt a little like Kevin Costner’s character in Field of Dreams.  I quit my job with the local chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and had some burning ideas of what I wanted to see happen.  I just had this gut instinct that if I started building something that helped people unplug that others would join me.  Everywhere I went, I would share what I was doing with total strangers. Invariably, the message resonated and after talking with people, I would get follow up emails with offers of help, articles or funny cartoons attached.  The conversation frequently ended with “let me know how I can help.”  The old adage “It takes a village,” kept popping into my head and that’s how the ‘Unplugged Village’ was born.” 

The Fourpenny event on Tuesday resulted in yet another offer of help. James Card, a Data Scientist from Northwestern University, was in the restaurant that night, and was fascinated by the concept.  Card, offered to help analyze the survey data and give some strategic direction.  “"My career is in front of a computer screen.  The unplugged tech break was such a welcome relief” said Card.  Families appeared to enjoy themselves as well.  One family had such a good time that their 11-year-old asked to return on Friday night.  “I really liked the old fashion atmosphere and the ‘Frog Juice’ game we played” said Gabriel C. 

Happy with this trial run, Fourpenny House would like a repeat performance in the near future. The hope is that some of the other restaurants in the La Mesa Village will join in and make it a community event and perhaps this will spread to other communities down the road.  In addition to unplugged dining, Erickson offers resources and workshops on how to help reduce tech dependency.

“Technology is super fun and engaging.  It’s an important tool and it’s nearly impossible to operate a business without tech.  I couldn’t reach people with my message without it.” said Erickson.  “Tech can be a real time-sucker though, and we sometimes need reminders to keep it in check and give the brain a chance to recharge.”  Erickson hopes to keep the Village growing as she continues her search for Life-Tech Balance.  “I put the word ‘Life’ first as I think it really needs to be front and center before tech and not the other way around.  It’s good not to let Google have the answers for everything.  Virtual reality shouldn’t replace real reality and social media shouldn’t trump social contact.”

The next Unplugged event will be August 21 at 5 p.m. at Fourpenny House in La Mesa.

 

Interested in getting involved or sponsoring an unplugged event?  Contact Claudia Erickson with the Unplugged Village for more information at (619) 248-6532 or cerickson@unpluggedvillage.com or www.unpluggedvillage.com.