I have borne witness to a bevy of restaurant sins. I have been presented with omelets that looked like they were prepared by a shedding dog. I have eaten “medium rare” steak that is ice cold in its center. I have been offered chocolate milk as a beverage with my entree. I have little patience for these mistakes. These sins, however, pale in comparison to the ultimate misdeed: an improperly decorated interior. Is there any worse feeling in the entirety of the human experience than eating a meal in a room reminiscent of a church basement? Or worse, a Bartlett classroom? True tragedy occurs when a restaurant delivers outstanding food but has an interior that fails to match this level of excellence. So, here I have created a handy guide for all restaurants to fix this problem.
Restaurants that serve admirable food but are struggling in the area of visual aesthetics, I implore you to redecorate in this fashion: keep your lights running in such a way so that they never exceed an output of 300 lumens. Even if your tables are made out of neon yellow plastic and covered in crayon drawings, proper lighting is one of the easiest upgrades a restaurant can make. When sitting down for a meal with a loved one, I always ask myself: do I feel like I am about to partake in an intimate experience with said loved one, or do I feel like I am about to be asked numerous probing and uncomfortable questions by my physician? The general rule is: the brighter the light, the more likely it is that it will resemble the interior of a medical building. I don’t know if I could think of anything less appetizing. In an ideal world, the lighting would be so dim that I have some trouble even seeing my dining partner. I have once spent an evening at a restaurant thinking that I was having a wonderful conversation with my girlfriend, but it was so dark that I was in fact talking to a stranger the entire time, unbeknownst to me. That, friends, is the essence of romance and spontaneity.
There are two other elements that are of tantamount importance to that of lighting level: furniture arrangement and noise level. Let’s start with the former. Tables and chairs must be arranged so that the dining room is reminiscent of an obstacle course. I want to struggle in my attempt to follow the host to my table. The ideal scenario is that I get lost on the way to my destination. Why might I like this exercise in discomfort, you ask? If I do in fact successfully find my way to the table, or the bathroom if I need to use it during my meal, it fills me with a sense of pride and refined elegance. I have managed to snake in between chairs two inches apart from one another in order to get to where I need to be. The art of sophistication requires the total absence of ineptitude. It is imperative that a restaurant put their diners to the test in this sense.
You may expect that I wish the noise level to be so quiet that I can hear my partner’s lips smack every time they take a bite of food. Wrong! I want to have tinnitus upon leaving the restaurant. What is more awkward than sitting in a silent dining room and struggling to think of what to say to your companion? Do I want to be captivated by the conversation? No! I want to be captivated by the food! I want it to be so I could respond in Russian to something my companion said to me and they would nod in agreement. Then I really don’t have to worry about what to say. All my attention is on the food. How could a restaurant achieve this even if it is struggling to bring in diners? Squish your tables together so that people are practically sitting on top of each other. This goes back to furniture arrangement. See? It’s all connected. A jazz quartet playing “Giant Steps” at breakneck speed is a plus.
These unreasonable expectations notwithstanding, it is the truth that the best meal of your life will be about more than just the food. You will remember everything about it: the smell of the air, the art hanging from the walls, the color of the tablecloth, even the shape of the chair in which you sat. No element will go unnoticed. So while I may have standards that are at times unreasonably high, the few but deeply treasured times in which I have experienced the potent blend of perfect food and environment will stick in my mind forever.
Jacob Abrams can be reached at [email protected]