Afraid of losing or breaking your smartphone during a bout of partying? Consider a "drunk phone."

Story highlights

Some young adults are taking cheap "dumb" phone to bars instead of smartphones

Many people who have lost phones in bars still won't leave their iPhone at home

A new prepaid feature phone can cost as little as $10

CNN  — 

Some young adults are so fond of their expensive smartphones that they take a cheaper backup phone with them to bars and leave their fancier phones at home where they are safe from spilled vodka tonics, pickpockets and uncoordinated drunk people.

That’s according to consumer-behavior expert Laura Krajecki of the Starcom MediaVest Group, who stumbled upon the trend while researching beer and shared it with AdAge. “They take what they call their ‘drunk phone’ … because they don’t want to lose their smartphone,” she said.

CNN’s independent research yielded different results, however.

An exhausting, though hardly exhaustive, survey of bar patrons in San Francisco this past weekend turned up zero people who had opted to carry a beater phone out with them on a night of drinking. Nor did any interview subjects know other people who had ever done such a thing.

But as seasoned bartender Jerome Bishop put it, “I’ve never heard of anybody doing that, but it doesn’t mean they don’t.”

It’s possible the people in watering holes visited by this reporter were not young enough (are college students more likely to binge drink and lose things?), well-off enough (a stream of secondary phones can add up), or beta testing top secret phones for their Silicon Valley employers.

Interestingly, while the mythical back-up phone was nowhere to be found, carrying multiple phones was not uncommon. Two friends at Churchill bar were hauling around their assigned work phones – both BlackBerrys, of course – in addition to their personal handsets.

Many people admitted to having lost their phones while drinking in the past but were still set on taking their smartphones with them on nights out.

“Sh** breaks, it’s expensive. If you’re not ready to take ownership of it, don’t buy it,” advised Eric, a guest at a costume party in the Lower Haight neighborhood. Eric recently lost his iPhone at Bay to Breakers – a boisterous alcohol-soaked run through the city – but quickly bought a new one. It was stashed safely away in a pocket under his pirate ensemble.

Nathan also knew the pain of losing an expensive smartphone after one too many.

After buying the first iPhone just days after it was released ($600 for the phone plus the $150 to cancel an existing Verizon contract), Nathan took it to a bar where he showed it off to friends. When he awoke the next morning, his phone was nowhere to be found. He bought a new one and hasn’t lost sight of it since.

Asked whether he’d consider swapping it out for a “dumb” phone if it was available, he said, “No, I’d probably still take my iPhone. I need my maps. And Shazam.”

It seems smartphone features have become too integral to too many people’s lives to just leave behind, whether it’s the camera for documenting good times or GPS for getting home from good times.

“I always want to have my good phone with me. If you get into an argument, you want to be able to look the answer up. I need my smartphone,” said Bishop.

But if Krajecki’s data is to be believed, some think a “drunk phone” is a sound idea whose time has come. So how do you go about getting your very own companion phone?

The easiest way to receive all your calls on a secondary phone isn’t to mess with SIM cards or contracts – just buy the least expensive prepaid phone you can find. After all, this is a phone you’re wagering could be left behind in a roadhouse latrine somewhere.

The cost of a phone jumps as soon as you try to get it without a contract, but there are still plenty of steals to be found. You can pick up a used phone on Craigslist or eBay, but if you’re after that new-phone smell, you can drop $10 on a Samsung Trackfone at Best Buy.

To receive your calls on this second phone, our friends at’s Techland suggest a service such as Google Voice. However, it’s probably easier to just turn on call forwarding on your smartphone before you head out. Take a few minutes to enter the key phone numbers into your second phone – the local cab company, your preferred late-night romantic dial.

This brings us to one of the unexpected advantages of taking a secondary phone on the go. You can decide ahead of time, while you’re still sober and of sound body and mind, whose number you should have in your phone.

If you’re using a truly dumb phone, there is no Twitter or Facebook, no work e-mail and no ex-boyfriend on speed dial (assuming you haven’t memorized his digits). You’ve greatly decreased the chances of accidentally humiliating yourself after a third martini.

At Nova, a bar in San Francisco’s startup-filled SOMA district, Bishop sees plenty of phones left behind. He holds on to them and waits for the owner return or to call their own phone. Maybe those handsets should be called “drunk phones,” too.

So do you carry a “drunk phone” when you go out for a night of revelry? Or can you not part with your valuable smartphone? Are there other times and places you’d opt to take a cheaper phone? Share your communications strategy with us in the comments section below or go to iReport.