Quit Trying New Restaurants!

Nice RuebenI didn’t read Dick Meyer’s Why We Hate Us: American Discontent in the New Millennium, but a friend told me about it, which is the same thing, right? As one example of our self loathing, Meyer shines the light on an experience many of us have had: We go to a restaurant, ignore the servers for the most part except to complain when, as we expect, their timing isn’t both invisible and impeccable, and then get irritated with their apathy or not-so-subtle disdain of us.

The problem (as Meyer supposedly writes) is not that we expect perfection from each other; it’s that we expect the worst.

I think we are seduced by the idea that the next new experience is something that will make us happy, but we jump from experience to experience without changing what that fundamental experience is. What if, and (I’ve heard) Meyer suggests this, you went to the same favorite restaurant all the time? And what if you always ordered your favorite meal? And what if, by golly, you got to know your servers?

Daniel Gilbert points out in Stumbling on Happiness, which I did read, and now because I’m telling you about it, you don’t have to, that you will be most satisfied if you always chose the meal you like the most. It’s true. It’s science.†

Every week, sometimes twice a week, I eat at the Blue Fig, an unassuming daytime restaurant with good enough coffee. The Reuben is out of this world— every time— and Shirene, Aaron, and Nick always smile and ask about my day. We’ve had conversations about the big things they want to do that really matter to them (of course) and what it’s like to quit smoking and which benches look best in their back patio. It’s only been a couple months, but soon I want to be able to walk in there and have them ask me, “The usual?” Just like in the movies.

It’s not that special a place if I consider on the same block of Valencia Street are there are another 4,006 of the world’s best restaurants. But then, something like this happens, and I think, I’m in love.

This week’s goal. Go to your favorite restaurant, order your favorite meal, and get to know your server. Then next week, do it again.

†Apparently, it’s common to choose less-preferred experiences for the sake of variety.

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Leave a comment3 comments on "Quit Trying New Restaurants!"

  1. That sure looks like a cool and surprising night at the Blue Fig! I do think there has to be a balance. If you never try new restaurants or order new dishes, how will you even know which ones you’d like to become your regular routine?

    I like to have a mix of both. For example, I go to Cafe Selam to have my Ethio-style fool medamas, and even though there is a big language barrier, the owner and I have known each other for years, she knows my kids, we always enjoy catching up. I could eat that singular dish at least once a week.

    On the other hand, I’m always the one trying every new place that pops up, waiting to be wowed. Nowadays that is partially professional interest, but I think that tendency has helped me to become a much better cook.

    • You put it very well, and the title and the suggestions are meant to be provocative, not didactic. Still loving your book, eating it slowly, looking for what might be my new favorite. 😉

  2. This is probably a HUGE shock to everyone, but I take a minute and genuinely ask how a server or counter-person is. I’m a creature of habit and do repeat the same places. Most people light up when I come in and a few of the local places will simply start pouring with a curt “you’ll probably like this”.

    It’s a much more satisfying experience than “something new” everytime. Yeah, I do have a place or two… or three where everybody knows my name.

    Blue Fig? Looks like I should take R… and meet a gent for lunch.

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