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Idiot Box

March 29, 2016

Did I ever tell you why I went into advertising? It’s because I loved TV. And I blame my parents. But the funny thing is that they didn’t use the television as some form of electronic babysitter. In fact, they did just the opposite.

My screen time was highly regulated. I remember poring over the TV Guide in anguish trying to budget my allotted time and figure out which shows I really wanted to watch on a given week. The forbidden fruit is twice as sweet.

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d be the kind of person who says, “I don’t watch TV.” But I don’t watch TV. Which isn’t to say that I don’t watch sitcoms, or serialized dramas. I do. I just watch them on DVD or streaming over Netflix.

But television? It’s kind of incredible to me that people still watch it. What’s even more incredible to me is the number of eating and drinking institutions that think it’s a good idea to have a flickering screen as a part of the decor.

Today’s post was inspired by something Susie Davidson Powell wrote recently. Her latest review for a French restaurant in Schenectady dinged their decor rating in part because of a television screen. Here were the two lines that really stuck out for me (boldface added by me for emphasis):

In the private garden room, a flat-screen TV endearingly loops a montage of personal photos from France. If this were a private home, they couldn’t have done a lovelier job.

It’s damning with faint praise. And frankly, I think she’s right on. This restaurant in question is intended to be a fine dining destination, where dinner costs about $100 per person. Which is exactly the kind of place where the glow of an electronic screen should be entirely unwelcome.

But I don’t want to get held up on the specifics of this one example. It was merely the starting point for this rant. Because televisions are everywhere. And. They. Are. Terrible.

If the sound is on, they are intrusive.
If the sound is off, they are still a distraction.
They are bright. They are almost impossible to avoid.
And they seem to be virtually everywhere.

I would hope, that in today’s day and age where everyone is carrying around an internet enabled supercomputer in their pockets that we’re finally past the tyranny of the public television. If a patron at a business really wants to watch a sporting event, he can just whip it out. There’s no reason for everyone to be subjected to the visual pollution.

I’ll make one exception for sports bars. Sure. Because there part of the fun is communally watching lots of different games, I guess. But at least that makes sense. I can choose to avoid places like that.

However, we’ve got some excellent beer halls. These are places that go to great lengths to bring amazing beers into their doors. People come. People congregate. And people can actually have conversations with each other. That is, of course, until their gaze gets captured by the moving images on the glowing screen. And then they turn into zombies.

It drives me bonkers. They might as well be on their couch at home with a six pack.

Ultimately, I’m a little bit more forgiving of televisions in bars, but far less patient with TV screens in restaurants. But a TV set in the bar area of a restaurant best be entirely out of sight from patrons in the dining room.

Look. I get it. Some people want to watch television when they eat. Those people aren’t going to be paying much attention to their food. So perhaps that’s one reason why restaurants have so many TVs. We also know that people eat more when they are sitting down in front of the tube. So perhaps that’s another.

Those people are distracted from their food by the boob tube. They’re not fully experiencing their meals or the moment. But that same electronic glow diminishes the restaurant experience for those who are there for the food, the company, and the surroundings.

If you want to eat while watching television, I’d suggest takeout. Or alternatively, you can eat anyplace you like and watch on your phone.

My hope is that we’re close to the day when restaurants will turn away from those large flat screens and will begin compelling their customers to actually be an active participant in the experience of eating. It’s really better for everyone.

Tell you what? I’ll keep my fingers crossed, but I won’t hold my breath.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. -R. permalink
    March 29, 2016 10:04 am

    Spot on post. I stopped going to Cafe Madison when it was still serving dinner (I’m not a brunch kind of guy) even though I thought their food was excellent. Why? They had a fu**ing TV that hung over the bar, and if you were seated looking out toward the street, you could see that damn thing from 3/4 of the dining room. I actually asked them to turn it off once, and the waiter gave me that dumb blank look, mumbled something and walked away.

    I haven’t been back since.

  2. March 29, 2016 10:17 am

    Great post, and I agree completely. (Well, with the exception of the screens displaying K-Pop videos at Namu). I also think the Cap District has more examples of this blight than elsewhere, which is one more reason our restaurants get dinged for provincialism.

  3. March 29, 2016 10:36 am

    It drives me insane when my dining partners are distracted by watching the TV. It’s rude. Or maybe I’m just a bore.

  4. albanylandlord permalink
    March 30, 2016 1:21 am

    I mostly agree. I do like them in bars for the occasions that I am eating or sitting alone and have nobody nearby to talk with (and the phone doesn’t usually work for sports unless you are paying for it). I hate when someone I am with gets distracted by a tv, even the same TV I appreciated when I am alone.

    In Susie’s review I think she was appreciative of the TV because it was showing pictures.

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