The Wall Street Journal reported on something I’ve been screaming about a lot recently: Dinner is not fun anymore. This is of course not a complaint about restaurant workers, who are not paid enough for keeping the espresso martini economy afloat. It’s about how the concept of dinner has become untenable in a late-Covid era where our desperate enthusiasm for getting out of the house far outstrips the capabilities of a still-recovering restaurant industry. Going out to dinner now is all about waiting in line for an hour and half so that we can eat for an hour and half, if we’re lucky, before being gently booted out of the place to make way for another four-top of girls in nap dresses.
Let’s take one especially heightened recent example. A few months ago, I met up with a friend in Koreatown, roughly halfway between our apartments, for dinner and threw my name on a waitlist.
We never got off it.
WSJ reporter Lane Florsheim shared information gleaned from Resy, a reservation app: April 2022 was the platform’s busiest month on record, besting the previous record of July 2021. She writes, “The average number of ‘notifies’—a waitlist function that allows users to sign up for alerts if someone cancels a reservation they want—has increased 50 percent per restaurant in New York City since 2019.”
The article posits a few possible reasons as to why it’s so hard to eat dinner right now. A restaurant owner in Philadelphia thinks people who had money didn’t spend it last year, so there’s a lot to go around. An executive from a New York-based hospitality group suggests that years of indoor dining bans made people long for beauty confined within a structure that wasn’t made of flammable plywood in the middle of a city street. A film and television producer named Jamie Patricoff who is an investor in a Los Angeles restaurant called “Genghis Cohen,” thinks, “We’re just in a time where being a foodie, caring about what restaurants you eat at, wanting to go to the hottest place is at an all-time high.”
The only solution that the Wall Street Journal is able to offer is to become one of the 15-20 people who go to a three-star Michelin restaurant with a minimum $190 per person pre fixe menu every day and spend money until you wear the maître d’ down: “Becoming a regular at a favorite restaurant might be the best solution of all. Ripert mentions that Le Bernardin blocks off a few tables for the 15 or 20 people who visit the restaurant multiple times per week.”
I have a better solution: stay home and eat salami out of the fridge or try making hardtack. Oh, I’ve also been doing this thing lately where I spread peanut butter on toast and then put honey and Maldon salt on top. Ricotta, honey, and egg on sourdough is equally delicious. I still don’t have a toaster, but the broiler works just as well. You can also watch TV at home, which is something that is not available at Le Bern. Or maybe try lunch instead. Let the Genghis Cohen-type guys boost the economy. They’d be annoying to squeeze next to anyway.