Dinner And A Show

Some people never eat alone.

Photo: Helen K

“Pondicheri is not the place to take a crowd of people who want dinner to be the show,” writes Pete Wells, the only critic that matters, in today’s New York Times restaurant review. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what rubbed me so wrong about the line until I read this interview with Brooks Headley, the guy behind Superiority Burger.

I’m guilty of saying, “Only rich people eat at fancy restaurants,” which isn’t true. People who save up for a fancy occasion make up a big chunk, for sure. When I started at the first fancy place I worked, I’d never written “Happy Birthday” or “Happy Anniversary” in chocolate script. I’d say close to 50 percent of the desserts that went out had one or the other on them…. But while it isn’t necessarily all hedge fund guys, fine dining is for very wealthy people and for normal people pretending to be rich for the night. Either way, a $400 meal for two is pretty grotesque.

Depending on how much value you believe you derive from prepared food (or the pictures you take and share of it) you will obviously have your own opinion of what line the financial figure which separates extravagance from grotesquerie falls across, but the whole thing once again confirms my conviction that the greatest contemporary con rich people pulled on the strivers in the wake of the financial crisis was the “experiences are more important than possessions” scam, in that it somehow made “conspicuous consumption” its own double entendre while allowing the wealthy to present their expenditures as virtuous excursions into self-improvement. “People who want dinner to be the show” aren’t so much interested in being present at the performance as they are in being the stars of the larger spectacle where the real audience is everyone else who gets to see who turned up. Dining out — and, in certain cases, an evening at the theatre — is now a red-carpet livestream for anyone with disposable income and the desire to make everyone else aware of it. Are you walking into the auditorium or are you watching at home, on your phone?