We eat out much less often than most folks do, I think. Yet far more than just about anyone ate out when I was a child. This is hardly news - it has been observed, measured, and discussed for years. It was almost 30 years ago, visiting Southern California for the first time for my brother's wedding, that I was impressed by the sheer number of restaurants - and the information that some people ate out 3 or 4 times a week. In contrast, I suspected that Tracy and I could, with a little effort, identify every time we had eaten out in the five years we had been married.
I don't know what they're doing in California now. But the contrast to my childhood is enormous. Out for ice cream at the Puritan was a big deal; cafeteria lunch at the Red Arrow, or pizza at Verani's, totalled a half-dozen times a year. Once we went to the China Dragon, and I proudly brought my date there for the junior prom.
In the 50's-70's people had other couples over for dinner or had small parties. Always deadly if the guests didn't have children your age, but great fun if they did. No, not always, now that I think of it. Sometimes you were stuck with kids you didn't like very much. But to be a 7th-grade boy, made to go to a house with a 6th-grade girl, quite heavenly. She couldn't get rid of you. She had to be polite and let you hang around with her. I fell in love many times that way, sometimes lasting days on end.
We had a gift card for Olive Garden and went through $50 last night, just the two of us, which still seems a large amount of money to spend. Yet there were other patrons, young people clearly not well-off, all over the joint. In a down economy. If you are looking for a marker of greater prosperity over the last fifty years, that one should leap out. We have such abundance that we often pay large sums for other people to wait on us - just like rich people!
Senior citizens eat out a lot, I hear, and even if they are keeping a close eye on the early-bird specials, it must certainly be even more of a luxury compared to their childhood experience. Perhaps that's why they like it: an echo of all those small parties, coupled with the luxury of being waited on.