Dining, food, and values


Some people make money to eat food. I’m one of those. Some people eat food to make money. In that class of people are food critics. I don’t think I can claim to be one of those. I’m too inclined to overlook small flaws. For one thing, it might be something secondary that influences the relative rating of one restaurant against others in a market niche. To me, there comes a time when food is just food. Like most needs, it cannot take over your life without unbalancing it.

At the same time, if I take the time to write about eating out, I have to be basically honest. I simply can’t say I enjoyed something when I didn’t. A restaurant’s reputation has zero nutritive value. If influential people flock there, you can say so without saying they crave the excellent food. And staying power in a market doesn’t prove, ultimately, that the food will be good. “Pub grub” can be served in very old pubs.

Now, I also think restaurants in downtown areas have advantages and disadvantages. One huge disadvantage is that their expenses can be higher. They almost have to price their menus higher to keep the books balanced. So, to me that means if they charge more, it isn’t any sort of evidence that they make better food. They have the advantage of the concentration of people and money in their vicinity. People on a restricted lunch hour pretty much have to come to them. Moreover, if you serve clients, and they’ve picked out a famous name before coming to town, you might have to go to that place. And for people who are dating, that could be where to see and be seen.

This is all preface to considering eating downtown or eating in a neighborhood. Some like to pit chains versus independent restaurants. To me, chains choose locations with some things in common with downtowns. Areas of money and people concentration. So, I’ll lump the downtown independents with the chains. I wrote one negative review because I paid a high price and got something inferior. I was asked if I informed the manager. I said I couldn’t see any need on my part to help a restaurant with poor quality control. Not when I have many neighborhood places who do better for less money. If I don’t have to be down there, don’t need to see or be seen, don’t have the tyranny of the timeclock, it makes no sense for me to go more than once to any downtown place that doesn’t perform every time.

This is where I part company with pro critics or those needing to speak knowledgeably about famous places. I don’t need to nitpick. I don’t need to defend. And I don’t need to pay high prices. I go places to find out if they make things I like. If they do I go back. And since honesty and humility are the two jewels of human moral character, I get good value for my money and preserve my self-image.

Consider strongly when you read a positive review about an expensive place that locates itself to harvest praise from pros and money from expense accounts. Do you really need to abandon neighborhood businesses because someone wrote that you must try this? I think this is a wonderful chance to “know thyself” as Socrates said you must. To figure out what the “value” is that your expenditures deliver. Maybe it is just saying to someone “I went there”. No problem. That, not the food, is what they gave you.