This survey has scant claim to being scientific, but in gatherings with people ranging across the generations, few topics surface more frequently than favorite restaurants and the ongoing hunt for new ones. Politics, sports, vacations, children, the stock market, home prices commonly take a back seat to exchanges about recent restaurant discoveries and exceptional dishes savored. Like tens of millions of Americans these people have in recent years taken to “eating out” with regularity. Indeed, for many, it’s become their favorite pastime. And to accommodate these devoted diners, restaurants have flourished, new ones appearing constantly, often on the sites where previous eateries failed to catch on. Food choices and cooking styles have exploded; a bewildering assortment of possibilities now tempts the palate.
No longer does it require a special occasion in order to eat out as once was the case, nor any need to feel guilty about not preparing a meal at home. Because it’s become so commonplace Americans now spend as much for dining out as for food consumed at home (though often eating at places that feature “home cooking”). In our service-oriented society, being served and leisurely dining have become enormously popular.
People eat out because they can afford to and because they find it to be a satisfying experience, a break from their daily routines, liberations from dirty dishes, a chance to relax with relatives and friends and, if single, to be amidst other people. But it’s also an adventure an opportunity to taste new dishes and discover new dining spots. Sure, most everyone has his favorite restaurant, where he knows the menu, is totally at ease, and is coddled by waiters and staff. But there is an unquenchable wanderlust, a desire to leave the beaten path in search of new culinary experiences, and then to be the bearer of glad tidings, first among their set, to proclaim the virtues and value of a new establishment. In the ongoing competition for influence and status, high marks go to those intrepid explorers who guide others to fine food and ample portions.