Sometimes my friends and I like to play a little game when one of us is having trouble recalling a particular fact or facet of pop culture. “Oh man—I can’t remember! What’s the name of the guy who got kicked out of The Beatles/does Homer Simpson’s voice/played the baddie in The Goonies?” We’ll look at one another, quizzically, smile and issue a rejoinder: “Don’t do it! Don’t pull out the Google!”
Occasionally, after a few moments, the answer will miraculously shake down from the brain’s dusty rafters: “Pete… uh… Pete Best! That’s it!” More often, however, it’s a battle of wills as to how long each individual can sustain the dreaded pain of not knowing. Guiltily, one of us will reach into her pocket to query the almighty oracle commonly known as the internet, getting sucked into this or that rabbit hole, possibly for minutes at a time. Dialogue stalls, silence ensues and suddenly everyone’s face is eerily lit by the inviting glow of all-too-handy devices, each having begun individual quests for precious answers. “Dan Castellaneta…” one murmurs. “Robert Davi…” another whispers.
To resist this urge is to embrace curiosity, conversation and collaboration. To put down the phone and consciously engage in the present moment feels fantastical and seductive. It’s a rebellion against the tyranny of tech—a small, personal protest.
Standing in solidarity on that plucky picket line is the Wine Kitchen, with its new weekly enterprise, “Conversation Thursdays.” Beginning at 6 p.m. Thursday evenings at the restaurant group’s Leesburg location, patrons are invited to turn their phone over to the bartender and forego a printed wine list. Instead, knowledgeable servers will inquire about an individual’s taste preferences and suggest a wine to suit those particular desires. Guests who agree to give up their devices receive a 10 percent discount off their tab, as well as the satisfaction of trying something new while actively engaging with one’s tablemates.
Just two weeks in, General Manager Andrew Grantz says Conversation Thursdays is already a hit. “It was amazing to see how open folks are to the idea of giving up a phone, giving up a wine list and chatting with each other and their server,” he said. “We have an amazing staff, all of whom were all very excited for the chance to improve the guest experience with their expertise and knowledge of our wine list. Our guests, in turn, fed off of that energy and took the chance to tell us what they like so that we could make decisions for them and allow them to relax and enjoy the experience.”
Those who frequent the Wine Kitchen are familiar with its pithy description cards, which are distributed with each glass or bottle of wine. Clever lines like, “Spirited notes of lemon rind and lime juice are like a bucket of cold water to a taste bud,” naturally invite oration, and Grantz encourages guests to read the cards aloud as a conversation starter. The simple act of removing printed wine lists necessitates meaningful interactions between servers and guests.
“I thought of not putting wine lists on tables while I was talking to a couple of guests about wine pairings and suggestions,” Grantz said. “They usually come in and ask what I like or what’s new and trust me to order for them without even looking at a list. They mentioned this as one of the reasons that they come to the Wine Kitchen and a huge part of what separates us from other restaurants. Our staff is very capable of doing the same for all of our guests. I brought the idea up in a meeting and [co-owner] Jason Miller had the idea to encourage folks to turn in their cell phones and take it a step further.”
Grantz and his team are betting that, once word gets around, the vibe during Conversation Thursdays might just spill into the rest of the week. “The restaurant was buzzing like bistros used to before cell phones existed,” he observed. “Every table was engaged in conversation and there was a lot more back and forth. [Cell phones] take away some of the personal interaction that brought me to the hospitality industry in the first place. People come to the Wine Kitchen for our amazing food and for the great wine program that we put our heart and soul into creating. If we have the opportunity to tell folks about it without cell phones getting in the way, their experience will only improve.”
Naturally, everyone’s invited to join the conversation—for the latest goings-on at the Wine Kitchen in Leesburg, Purcellville or Frederick, Maryland, go to thewinekitchen.com.