09 May 2020


Dialogue restaurant, Pumpkin Ice Cream Sandwich, from THE BEFORE.
This week, I read that restaurateurs of a fine-dining restaurant in Austin, Texas, planned a novel idea for "service" during our collective state of COVID confinement. They would provide their tasting menu to reserving guests by virtually gathering them from scattered home kitchens to follow along and cook the menu in that "alonetogether" patchwork of screen boxes we've learned to substitute for a shared table.

I figured that the synchronous preparation and enjoyment of the same menu was meant to recoup not only some of the restaurant's revenue but also one of the fine-dining restaurant's profound services to humanity: I mean its ability to enhance civilization by offering a communal aesthetic and social experience that enlivens the senses and expands the imagination. Check and check. (And "Check, please!")

Upon reading this news, I was touched by the resourceful creativity of the restaurateurs. I marveled at their tenacity. I understood that doing anything other than adapting--however imperfectly, however not like it was--under today's dire circumstances might be far worse. Something had to be done, right? Leave it to restaurateurs to find imaginative solutions. I admired these people in Austin trying to make it work.

I also felt depressed. The news of this creative solution only highlighted the loss of what makes me want to visit a restaurant. The transformation of the restaurant into a home-cooking experiment might mean the financial survival of some business models (and I support any effort, really, at this terrible point), but it means losing what I love about restaurants. I love the kitchen staff's cooking and want to experience that, not mine. I love the ambiance. For this reason, I leave my home. I love the privilege of being served by competent, graceful servers. I appreciate what it takes to execute good service, and when I choose to go to a restaurant, especially a fine-dining establishment, I am willing to pay--and tip--well for it.

What can I do to get the restaurants I love back to what I loved about them? So far, all I've managed to do is get lots of takeout, donate whatever I can to the legitimate causes, including some Gofundme pages for specific beloved places, and calling and emailing Congress to fix the sorely lacking PPP bill so that it benefits restaurants. I follow Independent Restaurant Coalition and #saverestaurants (saverestaurants.co) and post what they suggest I post. I applaud my local government's employment of restaurants to help feed seniors and those too much at risk to venture out to get their own food.

If I can do more, I will. I want my beautiful, bountiful restaurants back. I don't want them permanently transformed into home-cooking courses and curbside pickup joints.

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