Halifax cafe goes ‘screen free,’ sparks backlash on social media

HALIFAX — A popular Halifax cafe and bar found itself in a firestorm of caffeine-fuelled controversy Tuesday after declaring itself “screen free” after 5 p.m.

Lion and Bright cafe, in the city’s hip north end, recently posted signs informing patrons of the rule, which requires work-related screens such as laptops and tablets to be put away during the evening.

“Close your screens, meet your neighbours! Lion & Bright is now screen free after 5 p.m. daily,” the sign read in a photo posted to Facebook. An asterisk at the bottom of the sign said: “Includes Kindles, tablets, iPads, etc.”

The rule sparked a debate online, and while a few people were receptive to the change, others declared it “pretentious.”

A Twitter user named Simon Leither said: “Well, I know where I won’t be going. I can manage my own device usage, be a social human being and engage with people on my own terms.”

Another Twitter user named Philip Moscovitch said: “Weird for a place that has tables specifically reserved for people who are working, and that is full of people working all the time. “

The backlash prompted the restaurant to issue a press release late Tuesday afternoon apologizing if the rule came off as “patronizing and haughty.”

“This was not our intention,” the release said. “Being committed to openness and building a safe space for community to gather, we have taken the constructive feedback and have decided to edit those signs with a clearer message.”

It said the rule was “strictly for the benefit of our clientele to enjoy the dynamic space and offerings we’ve created in the community.”

“Focusing on creating a restaurant that is a place of sanctuary and leisure after 5 p.m. is integral to our longevity and our guests’ well-being,” the release said.

In an interview Tuesday afternoon, owner Sean Gallagher said the rule has always been in place, but had not been advertised previously in a clear way.

“We had no idea it was going to be a bold move, but it’s turning into one on social media, which is interesting and insightful,” Gallagher said.

He clarified that the rule does not include things like smartphones or reading a book on a Kindle — only devices being used for work purposes.

Gallagher said Lion and Bright is a hybrid establishment, operating as a cafe from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. and a bar and restaurant after that.

He said during the day, many use the cafe as a work space. But in the evening, people are encouraged to “turn off their work” and relax and socialize.

“It’s a work hard, play hard philosophy,” said Gallagher.

“If you’re using a screen and you’re tapping away and you’re plugged into headphones, you’re closed off to the world. We’re saying, at 5 p.m., now is the time to relax, connect with people, look people in the eye, share a drink, share your hopes for the future, talk about your work day, de-stress, and enjoy yourself.”

Lion and Bright is not the only cafe to attempt to grapple with such digital-age issues.

HotBlack Coffee in downtown Toronto has not offered Wi-Fi since opening last year, in an attempt to foster a community atmosphere. One New York City chain has decided to do without at most of its outlets as well.

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