Going out to eat was a rarity when I was young. Most of our dinners were homecooked by my mother. She made delicious meals, so it wasn’t a disaster to eat at home but going out to eat was special. An exciting break from mundane evenings.
I could sense a night out was coming, when, as suppertime approached, and nothing was in the oven, either we were ordering take-out (which was another welcomed rarity), or we were going out to eat.
I preferred going out to eat. I’d alert my siblings. “We’re going out to eat tonight! We’re going out to eat.” I can’t remember if they shared my same excitement, but I’m sure they did because eating out was a treat.
Though I hated getting dressed up, I loved going out to dinner, so I wore whatever my mother pulled from my closet, without much fuss. We dressed up. No jeans. It was nice pants, sweaters, blouses, dresses, or skirts attire. As much as I loved my jeans, especially the ones with holes, I knew better than to even think I’d be allowed to wear jeans when going to a restaurant.
But I don’t remember even wanting to wear everyday clothes. That’s what made going out to dinner special. You wore the clothes you didn’t normally wear. You did your hair better. You wore your nice shoes because you were going out.
My favorite places to eat were steakhouses. The ambiance was very distinct to steakhouses. Almost mysterious. They were darker than other restaurants, lit by candles in red-glass candleholders on every table. The tables were dense and sturdy, made of dark wood. The air was thick with the aroma of seasoned meat and homemade biscuits.
The biscuits were thick and buttery, and Mom always had to warn us not to fill up on them the moment the server placed the basket on the table, but we couldn’t resist. Our little hands dug right in.
My favorite dish was the basket of breaded fried shrimp and French fries. Every good steakhouse had them on the menu. I remember the fries looking enormous to my younger self, who was used to thin fast food fries. But everything was big at steakhouses, especially the baked potatoes they served, cut down the middle and fluffy on the inside, wrapped in foil, with sides of butter and sour cream.
This is how I remember the dining-out experience as a child. It was fancy. Special. You dressed up for it.
I don’t have the statistics, but I’m certain the stats will show families go out to dinner more often now than they did in the early 80’s, when I was a kid. Casual dining has been on the rise for decades, the proof is in the abundance of chain restaurants that have flooded this country’s landscape.
Sure, I’d have wanted to go to restaurants more as a kid if asked, but I’m glad it wasn’t a regular, casual thing. There would have been nothing special about it. I’m able to write this blog forty years later because the excitement I felt going out to eat as a child is still palpable. You don’t get that from casual experiences.
Photo courtesy of freedigitaphotos.net