Snubbing someone by checking your smartphone while dining is not a palatable sight – but this gave one designer some food for thought in creating a strap-on table for two that encourages concentration and conversation. Michael Jan, a design student at Tunghai University in Taiwan, has invented a serviette-picnic blanket hybrid called the Napkin Table, where each diner attaches one end of the table to themselves, forcing them to focus on the food (so it won't flip over) and each other for conversation. Jan explains the concept to Metro and what to do when strapped in with an awful dinner date.
Everyone's dined with someone who was more interested in their phone, so was this the inspiration of your table?
Yes, I found out if two napkins could be connected and used as a table, then it would be a natural block against people using their smartphone during mealtimes. Both diners have to work together to make sure the table is steady enough to eat from. In that way, people can have more interaction at the dining table than before. But I'm not trying to say whether using a phone while eating is good or bad. I want users to make their own conclusions through this new dining experience.
What's it like to eat from the Napkin Table? Wobbly?
It's very convenient: all you need is two seats and already you have a table. It only weighs 700 grams so it's not really a burden on anyone's neck – but that depends on what kind of food you eat, I suppose. I've tried many different things with my classmates: French fries, sandwiches, spaghetti ...
Spaghetti? Sounds messy.
It definitely is. Remember that every movement affects the table's integrity. One time when I was having a spaghetti lunch with my friend, I was about to take a bite of the pasta, when she deliberately leaned back on her chair. You can imagine what happened next... All the noodles I tried to stuff into my mouth fell onto the table. We would then start messing around like this.
Say you're stuck with a horrible date for dinner. What happens next?
I think I would stealthily stretch out my hand towards her underneath the table and then give her plate a swift pat to make all the food and drink go flying [Laughs]. But seriously, I don't think the Napkin Table is appropriate first date material. It might be too awkward.
Your classmates have tried the table out. What's been their reaction?
Some say it takes the dining experience to a whole new dimension, while others have questioned its practicality, as in what do you do if you have to go to the toilet or have neck spasms, etc. Maybe the Napkin Table is many things: fun, impractical and something that conveys a social message.