I am an introvert. I realize of course that it is popular to say this on “teh Internets” nowadays, but there ya’ have it.
For you weirdos out there (i.e. you extroverts), let me explain the difference between us. Generally speaking, an introvert can socialize quite well, but the process can be exhausting, and to re-energize, we need to go some place familiar, with familiar people, to hang out and relax. This is different from those of you out there who can go out on a moment’s notice, and are invigorated by meeting new people and engaging in conversations with near complete strangers.
It’s not that we introverts are shy. It’s more along the lines of the idea of being outgoing produces some measure of anxiety even before such social discourse becomes necessary. The introverts out there reading this will understand. Everyone else probably works in public relations or marketing.
So what has this to do with food? Think about this a moment. Eating in restaurants is, almost by definition, a social activity. How we feel about a restaurant, or in other words, how we rate our restaurant experiences, are often determined by our relationship with our fellow diners.
While I wouldn’t dare speak for other introverts, I should still provide you with my dining partner preference, in order to illustrate to you extroverts an idea on restaurant experiences.
- My intimate partner
- Me, myself, and I
- Close friends
- People I loosely define as “friends”
- Complete Strangers
For the first three categories up there, I can go into any restaurant and have a good time. People in these groups provide enough familiarity that no social anxiety exists in these situations.
The fourth category is a gray area, where any anxiety can be diffused by members of categories 1 and 3 participating in these dining experiences.
The fifth category are generally dictated by corporate culture. Sometimes category four can seep into category five and help temper any social anxiety.
The idea of dining with people who fit into category six exhausts me just to think about it. I can do it, and have done it. But lord do I feel relieved when such experiences are over.
Again, I can hear some of you thinking, “Yeah, okay. What does this have to do with restaurants?”
I would rather have a dinner in a greasy spoon with members of categories one through three, than have a dinner at Per Se or The French Laundry with members of category five or six. I can say unequivocally that the food will be better at the latter restaurants, but I know I would have a better time at the greasy spoon.
Knowing this about myself, it makes me question the importance of the quality of the food I am eating. Sure, I would love to head to Alinea in Chicago. But getting members of category one or three to go with me is a logistical nightmare. Many of my close friends have no interest in taking three days off, and dropping $600 dollars to go out to eat. Hell, I am barely able to convince my partner (who is a admitted picky eater) to regularly visit the places that only I enjoy. Therefore, the quality of the food is often a smaller variable than who I am eating with when deciding where to go out to eat.
Every time I read a restaurant review, there’s a nagging question I have in the back of my mind. “Yeah, okay, you liked/disliked the food. But what did your dining companions think?” Because if bad food can ruin an evening, the converse must also be true – that great company can improve or outright save, a mediocre (or even bad), meal.
I believe this is one of the failings of the American style of restaurant reviews. We focus so much on the food or the chef, that we can forget that the most important part of the meal is who you’re sitting with.