It is more important than you think.
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I have a friend who owns and operates a family style restaurant nearby. It has been around for at least thirty years, maybe longer. I'm sure you have one in your neighborhood as well. Sometimes they are called "diners" or "grilles." My personal favorites are the prefabricated or silver streamliner diners I would frequent up north.
I've watched the clientele change in my friend's restaurant over the years, but he still gets civic clubs, golfers, groups of neighbors, special interest groups, and of course families, where they enjoy camaraderie, a few laughs, talk a little business, or just to pass the time of day. It has become a cultural icon in the area, as most family restaurants do.
I do not believe my friend truly understands the significance his restaurant has on the community though. He sees it as nothing more than a place where people come to enjoy his food, particularly breakfast and lunch. However, it's much more than this. People come in to discuss such things as local politics, developments in the area, such as the need for a new traffic light or sprucing up the downtown area, business interests, make travel plans, plan family events, or to simply relax from a difficult day. In this way, the family restaurants of today perform the same function as the old taverns of yesteryear, a place to sit and discuss current events or catch up on news. Because of this, it is an important social hub for the community. More business can be conducted in such a venue than can be accomplished over the phone.
Unfortunately, the family restaurant faces two threats to its existence: coffee shops, and fast food franchises. Coffee shops are rapidly becoming the de facto place to meet and talk business. Unlike the restaurant where you typically stay longer and enjoy a full meal, the coffee shop is for quick meetings. You spend less time at the shop, and for good reason, the company wants to flip the table in order to make more money. As such, they do not encourage long dissertations.
The fast food franchises have changed the way people think about meals, particularly breakfast and lunch. Instead of sitting down to a regular meal, people have been trained to consume their meal on the run. The cuisine includes such things as breakfast sandwiches, chicken fingers, burgers and fries. This explains why the menus in family style restaurants have been changing in recent years. Fading from view are such things as Swiss steak, beef tips on noodles, lamb shanks, goulash, meatloaf, even fried or baked chicken. If all you want is burgers, dogs and chicken fingers, what is the point of stopping at a family style restaurant?
Overseas, lunches are considered important. In Europe, for example, it is not uncommon to take a full hour for lunch, not just to enjoy a delicious meal, but to talk business. The same is true in Japan. The Japanese have a fast-paced lifestyle, but they understand the importance of a luncheon meeting, be it formal or informal.
Over the next ten to twenty years, we are going to see the family style restaurants in America slowly disappear. It is already starting to occur in my area. To compound problems, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find qualified cooks who know what they are doing in the kitchen. So, one by one, we are watching such restaurants quietly close their doors.
What I fear, as such restaurants go, they will have an impact on our social mores. We already have problems communicating with one and other, but this is going to be compounded when there is no longer a suitable venue to meet and talk.
As I told my friend, do not underestimate the importance of the local family style restaurant. As they disappear, our socialization skills will greatly diminish, and our communities will not function as well.
Yes, such restaurants are very important as they serve food for thought, as well as meals.
Keep the Faith!
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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 40 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at email@example.com
For Tim’s columns, see: timbryce.com
Copyright © 2017 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.