On Monday night a couple came into Sensi (the restaurant I work in) to inquire about eating dinner. It was after six o'clock and they were the only customers (probably due to the fact that people don't always think restaurants are open on Monday, and the warm weather, and the beginning of spring break for Richmond schools). The couple looked around and noticed that the dining room was empty. They told the hostess that they didn't want to spend $100 to eat "this kind of meal" by themselves, that they could do that at home, and that they would come back another time for a real dining experience. While I can understand the couple's discomfort at being alone in a restaurant, it made me think about why people go out to eat.
Maybe it's because we feel like being waited on, or don't feel like cooking, or have a craving for something we would never make at home. Maybe it's because the best meal we've ever had is at a restaurant that's right in the neighborhood, or because we're celebrating a special occasion. Maybe it's because we feel like dressing up and being seen, or because nothing compares to feeling like a regular. Whatever the reason, eating out is something that appeals to many and interests me as both a diner and a restaurant server.
The couple from Monday night couldn't have been too set on trying Sensi, or they would have at least stayed to have a drink at the bar. How much should dining out depend on other customers? Does it really make a difference if others are eating in the same restaurant? As one of my co-workers said, there always has to be a first table, and there have to be people who try a place before it develops a clientele. I don't think the number of diners should impact the decision to eat somewhere or not (unless, of course, it has a bad reputation or looks unsanitary). Chances are the couple could spend their $100 in a crowded dining room and have an inferior experience due to more noise and less attentive service.
There are several factors involved in eating at home (your own or someone else's) vs. eating in a restaurant: time, convenience, money, control, consistency, etc. When I go out for a meal, I try to keep all of these in mind while I rate the food and the atmosphere and everything else that composes a "dining experience." I find almost anything that has to do with going out for food, cooking, or eating to be interesting, no matter how many other people happen to be sharing the experience.