Anyone who has been in a Panera, a Starbuck’s or even a restaurant with tablecloths and wait staff knows the all-too-familiar site of family or friends seated together, but not actually engaged as they huddle over their ever-present phones texting or checking mail.

The sense of togetherness that comes from a shared meal is lost, replaced with time spent seated at the same table at the same time without conversation.

Nowhere is this more concerning, perhaps, than in families when the opportunity to catch up on each other’s activities falls victim to the compulsion of the screen.

Now one nationwide chain has provided the incentive to turn off phones and other devices during a meal and actually talk – free dessert!

Brad Williams, an operator of a Chick-fil-A franchise in Suwanne, Georgia, said the idea was hatched when he noticed more and more diners having an entire meal with family or friends without looking up from their electronic devices.

“We really want our restaurant to provide a sense of community for our customers, where family and friends can come together and share quality time with one another,” said Williams, “but as we all know, technology increasingly demands more of our time and can be a big distraction, even while we’re eating.”

The idea took the form of an ice-cream challenge to Chick-fil-A customers who are treated to a free cone if they turn off their phone or device (or put it on ‘silent’) and place it in the “Cell Phone Coop” box on each table, and make it through a meal without retrieving it from “The Coop.”

The challenge is run on the honor system in all 150 locations so diners can enjoy conversation with their dining companions and earn an “Icedream” cone for simply turning off the screen for the time it takes to eat a chicken sandwich and waffle fries.

Williams says not everyone succeeds on the first try, but the repeat business as diners come back to try again, is proof the idea is a hit.

The Chick-fil-A chain is a family-owned business that has come under criticism and protest for its policy of closing on Sundays to allow employees time to spend with their families.

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