In an effort to encourage families to spend quality time together, the Christian fast-food restaurant Chick-fil-A is giving away free dessert to patrons -- that is, if they put their cell phones down for the entire meal.
On Monday, the chain, which is closed on Sundays to honor the Sabbath, announced it had launched the "Cell Phone Coop Challenge," an initiative asking customers to put their cell phones on silent and place them in a white, wired box -- the "cell phone coop" -- until the end of the meal. Those who successfully make it through the challenge receive a free Icedream.
"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," Brad Williams, a Chick-fil-A operator in Suwanee, Georgia, said in a statement. "As we all know, technology increasingly demands more of our time and can be a big distraction, even while we're eating. This got me thinking about what we could do to reduce this distraction during meals."
According to a Pew Research Center study from 2015, fully 46% of smartphone owners in the U.S. say their smartphone is something "they couldn't live without." Additionally, nearly two-thirds (64%) of U.S. adults own a smartphone, up from 35% in 2011.
A 2015 Informate Mobile Intelligence study also found that Americans now spend an average of 4.7 hours per day on their phone.
"I've seen this addiction to technology worsen at such a rapid pace in just my lifetime," said Williams. "People have gone from having meaningful interactions with one another to constantly being on their phones and other technology."
More than 150 locally owned Chick-fil-A locations currently offer patrons the opportunity to take the Cell Phone Coop challenge.
The Christian Science Monitor notes that Chick-fil-A isn't the first restaurant to try to encourage customers from picking up their phones: Sneaky's Chicken in Iowa offer their guests a 10 percent discount if they ignore their phones throughout the meal.
"We noticed that within our own family we were way too connected to our phones and thought maybe we could get others to join us [in disconnecting] for just a bit," co-owner Christy Wright told The Huffington Post in 2014.
Similarly, several colleges across the U.S. -- including Penn State and California State University, Chico, have downloaded an app called Pocket Points that tracks how long a smartphone is kept locked and gives out points accordingly. The app encourages students to earn points by ignoring their mobile devices, rewarding them with treats for paying attention to the classes they shell out thousands of dollars to attend.
For Chick-Fil-A, the challenge has proved successful thus far: "The challenge has completely taken off," Williams said. "We have families who aren't successful the first time and come back to try again. We even have people asking to take the boxes home with them! Our whole community is talking about it."