In Belgium all cafés and restaurants have been closed since Saturday. This measure taken by the Belgian government is helping to prevent the spread of the corona virus from increasing even more rapidly and will be implemented by the beginning of April. At times like these, when it is important to limit social contact to the bare minimum, we learn how important it is for us having social contacts. The closures of cafés and restaurants make us aware of how important their social function is.
Neither fish, nor meat: semi-public
There are many reasons for going to the restaurant: A working lunch, a wine or beer with friends, a coffee on a date, beloved family celebrations or just the pure joy of enjoyment. If we look at the social function of restaurants, they form semi-public spaces and a transition between the public and the private, which we can no longer imagine being without. So if you visit a restaurant, you want to retreat and give your companion the attention, in various forms, without appearing too intrusive or revealing the private retreat zone worthy of protection. A pleasant side-effect: one is advised on the choice of food and drink and is not bothered by anything.
What we order
Which food we choose in the restaurant depends on the situation. By choosing our dish in the restaurant we also communicate with our partners at the table and sometimes with the other guests. While the choice at a working dinner might be a rather unpretentious and appetite-satisfying one, the choice at a date is different. The impression that we want to leave to our companion is above what we would normally choose. You don’t want to be considered either greedy or appetite-less. But at the same time you want to show the other person what you are able to afford; you want to impress and practice demonstrative consumption. The choice of food thus already reveals much about the current and general circumstances of the person we are going out with.
Education at the kitchen table?
Of course, there are many factors in a restaurant where we can learn something about our counterparts. I mean, it was the New York journalist Michael Pollan who wrote in his book „Cooking“ that education takes place largely at the dinner table. So eating habits can tell us a lot about a person. If we think back to our childhood days and the numerous admonitions of grandparents, parents or kindergarten staff, then we understand that Pollan is not wrong. It occurs to me that we small, still young human children, who we were at that time, in the kindergarten we should have spilled on the table, put our small yellow plastic plates on the stain, in order to avoid the trouble with the staff, at least for the moment. There was something like common sense in our group. However, even then those who had to loudly point out the situation to the staff were incredibly popular. After all, this person received the same rebuke as the unrepentant spillers: „You don’t squeal and you don’t spill“. So there’s something to be said for education and the dining table.
When we go to cafés or restaurants, we not only want to get out of the public space, but also enter another cosmos. Depending on our mood and intention we make the right choice. If I want to write an article, read a book, have a coffee or a glass of wine, observe people and let my thoughts wander, I will choose an appropriate café for that. Cafés, unlike restaurants, can also be visited without company. Of course, it should not prevent anybody to go to the restaurant alone, but as I already wrote, a visit to a restaurant is always also a kind of communication. And sitting with friends or family in a restaurant or café is oftenly also nicer. From the hipster café up to the traditional coffee house, there are many exciting cafés for this purpose. Most of them have their very own charm and appeal to different target groups. Most of the time.
Wow, Café Flora!
I was surprised by a concept that I had only seen in Saint-Gilles in Brussels so far. At first glance, Café Flora appears to be a modern hipster café, as there are many at the moment. But a second glance reveals a sophisticated concept. The design is, in a positive sense, shrill and lively, but finds a classic, dignified setting through stucco walls, for which the Belgian interior designer Lionel Jadot is responsible. The furnishings and the drinks and menu go hand in hand. The menu changes seasonally, is clearly arranged but at the same time varied, and offers (limited time of day) the perfect choice for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This contributes to the good mix of the age I was most surprised about. Café Flora manages to attract people of all ages with a sophisticated concept, offers refined food at a fair price and was awarded the Venuez Hospitality Award Best Bar/Cocktailbar by Bacardi in 2019. A harmonious overall concept!
In short, restaurants and cafés therefore have important functions in our society. They offer places of retreat, enjoyment and social exchange. Too seldom do we realize these circumstances, forgetting that they are among the most important social institutions that make our coexistence so much more pleasant, decelerating and pacifying. We usually begin to appreciate the everyday only when we lack it. So a big thank you to all cooks, waiters and waitresses, operators for the social function that your work performs.
This is the first part of my series about cooking – cooking means respect.