Saturday, March 03, 2012

MisoFishy and TVs in Restaurants

We were having dinner with my mom at MisoFishy on Lincoln. 

It's unpretentious, but more than a hole in the wall.  It felt like a neighborhood restaurant with a larger appeal.

But it had three big video screens.  One, appropriately, was an animated fish tank, but the other two had on a basketball game.  

A young couple (anyone under 40 fits that) was sitting near us.  I apologize for this picture, but I felt uncomfortable intruding on the privacy of the couple with my camera.  I didn't realize until I got home that I had the woman's face in it.  I've smudged her face in Photoshop.  She was attractive and so was the man sitting across the table from her.  They both had wedding rings on and I assumed they were married.  They talked a lot.  But every few minutes or so, while she was looking at him and talking to him, his head angled up and his eyes locked onto the screen for five to fifteen seconds.  He was so clearly NOT paying complete attention to his companion. 

My eyes wandered up to the screen now and then too.  And I've noticed the seductiveness of tv monitors in other restaurants.  How is this affecting relationships?  This couple was having real conversation that kept being interrupted by the screen.  I could see him break eye contact to check the television from behind him.  Surely she must have been irked when his eyes left hers for the ballgame.

Perhaps I paid more attention this time after the Chris Hedges video I posted last week in which he talked about his book Empire of Illusion and how we're moving from literacy to images and how we are being distracted by all the moving images.  We're being distracted from what we're doing, just by the movement, as in this case at the restaurant.  And we're being distracted by the content, distracted both from our real lives by this artificial life and from the realities of power in society. 

But I don't think individual restaurant owners are part of a conspiracy to distract us  paying more attention to lobbyists and who pays them.  They must think that customers want televisions.  But do we?

Do restaurants without tv monitors do less well than those with?  [As soon as I wrote that I had to start googling, below is a sampling of what I found on televisions in restaurants.]

Most online comments are negative with exceptions for sports bars, possibly lobbies where people are waiting, and airports.  (I'm ok with sports bars having tvs.)

Back in October 2008, when he was about to turn 33, James Norton reflected my concerns above:
Now insert a television, even with the volume turned down. It catches your attention, and your brain does what brains do: It tries to understand the image, the context, and the story, deciphering the action and suddenly and illogically becoming invested in it. Doesn't matter if it's a presidential debate with subtitles or a newly rebroadcast rerun of ALF. We're hooked. And we're disengaged from the people with whom we're supposed to be connecting.

A similar sentiment from Riverfront Times:
​Gut Check has begrudgingly accepted the sad fact that there will often be an illuminated screen of one type or another shoved in our faces when we eat. Sometimes it's a date that won't put his damn iPhone away, and sometimes there's a blaring flatscreen in every nook and cranny of a restaurant. No, we don't simply dine at sports bars and wing joints, either. We're talking about decent places with nice decor that really should not have a television, much less eight of them.
But, what can you do? It's an ugly, tacky sign of the times.
So, we deal with it when we, mid-sentence, catch our friends staring past us and at a Jersey Shore rerun. Because, rude as it may seem, it's nearly impossible to ignore the screaming flash of the screen (and orange tans), especially when the set is situated just behind/right next to your dining partner's face.
She does draw the line though on content:
And for the love of God, don't let Dr. Oz come on while people are trying to eat.
And I saw other posts complaining about inappropriate surgery and police shows showing while they were eating.

Isolda also realized in a restaurant that had a tv playing a Downton Abbey rerun that it wasn't tv she objected to, but what they had on:
So it occurred to me that what I really hate isn't the TVs so much as sports on TV. If more bars/restaurants were willing to dedicate one of their TVs to chick-friendly fare (with closed captioning), I might not object!

There's also a legal aspect to all this.  From

Restaurants under 3,750 gross square feet (not counting the parking lot) will be exempt from paying royalties on radio and television music only.
Restaurants over 3,750 gross square feet (not counting the parking lot) may also be exempt: 1. if they play no more than four televisions, each measuring up to 55” diagonally (no more than one per room), with no more than six speakers total, and with no more than four speakers per room, or 2. if they play radios that have no more than six speakers total, with no more than four speakers per room.
For restaurants to be eligible for the exemption, they must not charge a cover fee to see the television or listen to the radio.

The Washington Post had an article last September on Best Bars Without Televisions.

Restaurant Management has an article "TVs or No TVs?" which has one restaurant with tv and one without and asks them why. (Each owner likes his policy and says it helps business. But there's no data to prove one is better than the other.)

I started this internet search because I wanted to know if revenue goes up in restaurants with televisions.  So far, I haven't found any studies answering that question.  Probably they are important in sports bars, but what about decent restaurants?

There's a site for waiters and waitresses (make better tips) which says the televisions are not good for revenue:
Also try to avoid restaurants that have television sets in the dining areas. TVs distract diners and can cause people to sit at tables too long. Slow turnover cuts into your profit potential.
Really, that's all I can find on the relationship between televisions in restaurants and revenue.  It's quite possible that everyone just assumes they have to add a tv because their competitors have one (more like five.)  Or tv salespeople are pushing them.

But here's one option from a blogger on Shareable in San Francisco with a long post on this topic:
 “When I go in a bar or restaurant with a TV,” says Josh Mulholland, another friend and a Bay Area writer and teacher. “I only stay long enough to tell them why they aren’t getting my money.”
I think that's the way to go. 

My key objection is expressed well by this Vancouver blogger:
What if I don't want to watch TV? Even if you are not technically watching, it's still intrusive; trying not to watch becomes as irritating as watching. Requests to shut the box off have taught me that the best I can hope for is a channel change or a dip in the volume, with a change of seats sometimes reluctantly granted if the screen is looming over your head like an interrogation lamp.  


  1. I frequently eat alone in restaurants. I always have a book. Sometimes the light is too dim for reading, but there is usually a TV playing something I would never watch at home. Wonder if that couple keeps the TV on during dinner at home.

  2. A woman has to be pro-active. Your woman pictured under the TV monitor, if she was becoming irked, probably was thinking "why didn't I take the other seat in the booth?" (or other seat at the table?)

    Next time...

  3. She was probably thinking "Why did we come here instead of a place without TV?".

    I'm grateful that most places in Juneau where I like to eat don't have TVs. If the TV has Faux News on, I just don't go there, and I let them know why.

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