When Joe Clarke and Darlene Mann-Clarke 10 years ago opened American Grocery Restaurant in Greenville, only 3 out of 4 adults owned a cellphone.
Today, the vast majority of Americans are cellphone owners: According to a recent report by the Pew Research Center, 100 percent of U.S. adults aged 18-29 have a phone. But Clarke and Mann-Clarke don’t think the shift in statistics should necessarily spell a change in hospitality culture, which is why they’ve banned phones from their brand-new Greenville bar, Vault & Vator.
“We completely poached this from The Violet Hour,” Clarke says, referring to Chicago’s award-winning cocktail bar. “We’re creating this style that hearkens back to a different time, and we thought we don’t need people to come in and be on their phones.”
Nobody’s vision of a great bar includes people huddled over their phones, silently texting, or yelling into them about project deadlines and accounts payable. But 92 percent of the phones owned by 18-29 year-olds are smartphones, which means they’re frequently used to take and post pictures; even The Violet Hour has modified its initially stringent policy to allow "texting, tweeting (and) photos."
In other words, by making “no cell phone use” its top house rule, does Vault & Vator risk shooting itself in the social media arm?
Clarke says the bar has stayed visible on Instagram, Facebook and other channels by keeping its accounts active. “We have a fairly large presence, as far as our staff throwing cocktails online, because it’s necessary,” he says.
Yet there’s only a limited amount of customer-generated content online: Vault & Vator’s Yelp page, for example, has only four photos: One’s of the front gate; one’s of the menu and one’s of pita chips.
By contrast, Rappahannock Oyster Bar, which opened in Charleston the week before Vault & Vator debuted, has 54 photos on its Yelp page (although it surely helps that Rappahannock is lavishly windowed, while Vault & Vator is located in a speakeasy-style sealed basement.)
To compensate, Clarke says the bar has strategically invited bloggers to sample and document Kirk Ingram’s cocktails.
Additionally, Clarke is hopeful that old-fashioned word-of-mouth about the bar’s unique cell-free ambiance will draw as many customers as a perfectly-composed image of Don’t Fear the Reaper, featuring blanco tequila, Carolina reaper tincture, Aperol and grapefruit sherbet.
“I love the vibe in here,” Clarke says. “We’ve gotten a lot of great feedback: A lot of people, and more than not, have applauded it.”