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.
We ate out what I now know to be very seldom as a child, though that's certainly changed for me now. Whether from the culture I now work in - or general bachelor living - I no longer recognize that food seems to come from anywhere else but a restaurant. Though I rarely eat in any sort of proper restaurant, just a collection of cheap buffets and burrito places and whatnot.
Being a perpetually mortified child, I was keenly aware that we ate out very seldom compared to my friends (though even they would be considered odd by today's standards), so eating out has always felt like being "rich." Same thing with buying lunch at school/work.
Hence why I ate Dipsy Doodles and Mountain Dew every day in Jr High.
For a few of my growing-up years my family lived in the lower Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. We we would take a couple of trips a year to be big city of Roanoke for specialty shopping, or perhaps a visit to a medical specialist not available in our small town. We’d always eat lunch at the K&W Cafeteria – one of those Southern-style eateries that never caught on here in Yankeeland. You take your tray and march through the line just like in school and every item was priced ala carte. My parents would allow my sister and I to choose pretty much anything we wanted, so it was a real few-times-a-year treat. But then of course we’d always have to listen to my father’s refrain when we didn’t eat everything we chose, “Eyes too big for your stomach, heh?” The experience was worth the mild lecture.
It was probably when my sister turned 13 that my father and mother decided to do it up right and brought us to Jimmy's Harborside in Boston followed by a movie at the Cinerama (it was a big deal - you could probably get an explanation on Wikipedia if it is a new term). Other than that, my memories of eating out are few and far between. Then, when I was about 11 or 12, a McDonalds opened up about a mile away. Since my father was traveling a lot at the time, the McDonalds suppers were reserved for the nights my father was away and my mother wanted to take the night off. Seemed like a big deal at the time, the All American meal for 49 cents (hamburger, fries and shake). Alas, my children suffered the same fate as the AVI's children - they rarely saw the inside of a nice restaurant unless some relative was paying the freight.
We ate out a lot when I was a kid because we were living in South America and it was the custom to do so often, and my parents wanted us to observe and learn about the countries we were living in. Also, restaurants were cheap and plentiful, and my mom was ill a lot and couldn't cope with cooking much. ALso, we ate out a lot when we lived in England (the English food was better than its reputation if you ate in country pubs, and hole in the wall fish and chips shops, and authentic Indian curry palaces. The Brits in the 60s had a real taste for GOOD curry, because so many people had served in India and brought a taste for the food back. Much more common than Chinese restaurants here. We also ate all over France and some of Europe, tho my parents usually would give us kids a pittance in the local currency and tell us to forage while they got a gourmet meal at some fancy local restaurant. We would go haggle in French, Spanish or with gestures in Morocco for bread and cheese or somesuch, and my pretty sister could sometimes get us chocolate by looking cute.
We almost never went out the first twenty years we were married (broke), and have only gone out a handful of times a year since. Mostly when driving somewhere, or for a birthday treat. My husband and son love McDonalds and Friendly's and go there fairly often together. ALso the cheap specials at Costco. My main weakness is for Thai food, which you can get here. Good Indian is harder to find. We had spectacular French food in Montreal on a four day weekend this summer that revived my interest in cooking that way again. Mostly, I go out to get ideas for new things to cook...
My daughters and I really enjoy cooking. I guess I got it out of my system as a kid???
Oh, I was also a mortified kid: my father had a ritual of pretending to have a heart attack in horror at the size of the bill at restaurants that made us kids want to hide in shame. Also, my parents would enjoy embarrassing us by saying loudly in stuffy British restaurants
"Dear, don't you think we should consider getting married?? After all, it's been 15 years!" Different times...
I don't remember any dinner parties growing up and I think it was partly what you said about not having children of the same age being deadly. My parents were significantly older than average for the late 1960s so friends and relatives of the same age had children much older, and people with children of the same age were much younger. My feeling is that we ate out rather a lot, usually combining a meal with a Sunday afternoon excursion or a Friday night shopping trip. We grew up in a rural area of Iowa just as the small towns started to lose the mainstreet business as farms got larger and people got more mobile. The Sunday meals tended to be a little fancier, the Friday night ones tended a bit more towards fast food. That wasn't always true, one of the first fast food hamburgers we had was at a Robbie's (a McDonald's knock-off) in Mankato MN. Hamburgers for Sunday dinner scandalized my mom's mother who was living with us at the time.
Mom would usually cook a favorite dish for our birthday but the real event was getting to select a destination for a Sunday dinner. We ranged pretty far a field into western Iowa and southern Minnesota, especially as we got older.
I got in quite a bit of trouble eating out on regular basis over the last few years. I was amazed at the amount of weight I lost in a short time by simply opting for inexpensive lo-cal frozen dinners, extended with fresh or frozen vegtables, instead of eating dinner out several times a week.
Sponge - The Red Arrow near the foot of the Daniel Webster Hwy leaving Manchester to the north was that style cafeteria. Little dishes of jello with "whip cream," rice pudding, or lemon meringue pie were favorites. I no longer recall what the entrees were, but my mother always insisted we get a vegetable, and small dishes of beets were prominent.
The joke in our family was, and still is sometimes, my brother's taken from Groucho Marx. He would grab the check, study it, and say "It's an outrage. I wouldn't pay it if I were you."
As for McDonald's knockoffs, one of my first jobs was at Howdy Beefburger: "Howdy Ma'am, may I help you?" "Would you like a crisp golden apple pie with that?"
AVI - You'll have to explain a bit more sometime regarding the Red Arrow location you mentioned. I only know Lowell Street.
Was that the "Howdy, this is Kurt Gowdy!" chain? I recall his radio commercials in the Boston area in the 1960s. But maybe Goedy was shilling for Burger King, I really can't recall.
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