May 18, 2014
CHOW is one of many food themed websites, and if you follow this link you will find a 2006 entry on environmental psychology discussing a perennial problem for restaraunteurs: Clearing the tables so that new paying customers can get in. A joint in Chicago named Ed Debevic’s has incorporated the idea into the cultivated surliness they use to create a hip retro ambiance. I’ve never been to Ed Debevic’s, but it looks like my kind of place—even if the cheeseburgers aren’t quite ordinary enough for my taste. Spinning off onto another riff on the contemporary food culture’s tendency to mash-up ‘50s trade-dress and the late ‘90s fad for reinventing comfort foods with ever more exotic treatments would be too much of a tangent even for me. So I’ll just stick to the environmental psychology thing that we started out with today and ponder this need for speed in customer turnover from an ethics perspective.
I don’t think there’s much doubt about the idea that lots of restaurant operators would really like you to get out as quickly as possible. Putting an ironic face on it only enrolls you into their subtext in an explicit way. To be sure, there are many occasions for eating quickly and gettting back to business in our world, so maybe there’s no harm in taking it good naturedly. You can even incorporate the environmental psychology of turnover into your decor.
There is a contrary food philosophy: You should take as much time to enjoy your food as you like, and definitely more than you absolutely need. Food is something to loll over in a relaxed and convivial manner, and especially so whenever you have the occasion to be eating out of the house. This (we might say) would be a more European or possibly just French way of looking at things. Even the daily cafeteria lunch in many workplaces is going to be budgeted for at least an hour and a half. A light repast at the local bistro will run through three distinct courses, and you will be asked if you’d like one of those ridiculously tiny coffees afterwards, even if they can’t possibly be adding anything to the proprietor’s bottom line. You will probably not be presented with a bill for all this unless you ask for it, though one shouldn’t take this as a disinterest in being compensated for the food and service. The French are as capitalist as anyone. They just have a different understanding of what it is that you are paying for in the restaurant experience.
So maybe we can provide an alternative hermeneutical frame for the title of this week’s blog. Let’s forget about the whole idea of hurrying through lunch so that the surly wait staff can have another shot at earning a tip. Never mind the greedy ownership interest in maximizing the flow of paying customers. Let’s take this as a friendly recommendation to take a pause from the pace of work or household chores and get out once in a while. Take a break, in other words. Don’t feel compelled to scarf down something from a paper bag, or to scramble up some perfunctory edibles come dinner time. Go out the door and down the block (preferably on foot, as we said last week) and have yourself a little bite to eat. Relax and meander down to the fountain for a shake or some meatloaf.
Eat and get out.
Paul B. Thompson is the W.K. Kellogg Professor of Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University