It’s Not Just About the Food: Family Dinners at the Restaurant

Auriane Alix
Here’s why we love to eat out.
Image par analogicus de Pixabay

My mother and I are similar in many ways. But there is a huge difference between us. One thing I can’t understand, as it is so fundamentally integrated into my life.

My mother doesn’t like to eat in restaurants.

She says that the food is better at home. My parents indeed live in a city where most of the restaurants serve frozen food. Not real cooking. Besides, she once told me that she doesn’t take any particular pleasure in eating.

But still. She is the only person I know who doesn’t like to eat out.

Which led me to wonder: why do we like to eat out so much? I was convinced that it wasn’t just about the food.

Restaurants turn a need into an activity

Spending an evening at the restaurant always makes me happy. I love the soft and lively atmosphere of the terraces in summer, the comforting cocoons in winter, whose dancing lights call us through the glass before we have even passed the door. Each time is a unique and different moment. You never know what will come out of it. How many bonds were forged, how many important conversations were held?

Suddenly, nourishing your body extends to nourishing your soul. Going to a restaurant is a moment of life. It’s a completely different activity than your Tuesday night spent cooking something quick that you’ll swallow in front of a random TV show, before going back to your activities.

Eating becomes the evening’s occupation. You choose and book the theatre for that moment in advance. If you’re anything like me, you know the joy of anticipation. You get dressed up. Your evening is no longer vacant.

“People love to eat out because it is a way to spend the time, and because eating is a sort of pastime and a form of recreation. Often, people eat not because they are hungry, but because it is fun and an enjoyable activity,” explains Remez Sasson, in an article for Success Consciousness.

Each component of the process becomes part of the experience. Everything acquires some importance. Do you order a drink and a starter before your meal? How is the timing? How is the bread? Is the menu extensive or rather concise? Do you feel like trying something new, or sticking to personal favorites?

Eating is no longer a need, it is an activity, which turns into a moment of life, which turns into a real event.

Restaurants are atmospheric bubbles

“I love being in a warm, cocoon-like environment eating out in the middle of winter, having braved the elements to get there — and I love the process and planning it takes to get there.” — The Omnivore

It is all about the atmosphere. What does it feel like right now? Is it noisy? Comfortable? Intimate? And that quiet terrace in the backyard? Or those romantic candles on the tables? Is it lit? Dark? What does it smell like?

Each element is part of a whole. Of the very identity of each place. Determining the experience you will have there.

When you eat in a restaurant, you are part of this bubble, just like all the other people. The customers, but also the staff. The waiters, the cooks. People stop in the street and observe the bubble you are part of, reading the menu, wondering if they want to be part of it.

There is this rather chic restaurant where we go to celebrate important occasions with my family. And in this restaurant there is this waiter, always smiling and joking, who recognizes us since the day my father started chatting with him. This man is part of the moment. Of the experience. He brings meaning and richness to it.

This special bubble creates time and space to taste the food, enjoy the moment, stop, and feel it. Maybe that’s why food seems to taste better when we eat out: we are more focused on it. That’s why we are here, so better take a closer look at what we’ve ordered, wait a few seconds in weightlessness before sticking our fork in and tasting the first bite. We might even take a few seconds to appreciate the smell, try to identify it with something we know.

We chew more slowly, the taste is more intense. It is a way out of the ordinary.

It’s all about taking your time and luxuriating in the experience.

Restaurants are a place of connection

This is not news: human beings are less and less interconnected. This is largely due to our technological devices, which are supposed to bring us together but end up pushing us apart. Also because of our busy schedules and the lack of time we all complain about.

Restaurants are a remedy for this. That night, you know you’re out. You will enter this special bubble of experience with your dear ones, and it will be just all of you, in a special neutral place, brought together by one of the most fundamental and grounding things that all human beings do: eat.

“We need restaurants. It’s where we go to meet friends, meet family; it’s the first place we go to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, new jobs, new plans; it’s where we do business, where we fall in love. When we want to mark the most joyful moments of our lives, it’s a restaurant that we think of first.” UK Michelin Guide Inspector

My favorite moments at the restaurant are those I share with people I am comfortable with. I particularly enjoy going out with my family. A few days ago, I picked up my grandmother at the train station and we went for lunch at a grill restaurant that we often go to. We had a wonderful time. It was just the two of us, sharing knowing looks as we ordered mozzarella sticks and drinks as appetizers, and took bites out of our giant hamburgers before we were too full to order dessert but ordered it anyway.

We shared our love for food, but it was also our love for each other, and our love for life.

The pure joy of enjoying the simplest pleasures.

Restaurants are both a place and a time. An activity and an experience.

Here you can relax and indulge in whatever you like. It’s always a surprise. You’ll discover the menu, you’ll have the freedom to order what you want, you’ll have no idea what your plate looks, smells, and tastes like until that exhilarating moment when you see it arrive on the other side of the room.

When you eat out, you ask someone else to prepare your food for you. This is something very regressive, like when you were a child and had a refill of what your parents or grandparents had lovingly prepared for you.

So maybe that’s what my mother misses. Maybe she doesn’t perceive the love that the chef puts into his dish, because she is used to a more familial kind of love. After all, it is also about habits and education. And I know that she hasn’t been used to going to restaurants much in her life.

Cooking for my father, my brother and me is a way for her to say “I love you”. It can be felt in the way her cakes are puffed up and her risotto is creamy.

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