Dining Out Frustrations

“Eating at fast food outlets and [chain] restaurants is simply a manifestation of the commodification of time coupled with the relatively low value many Americans have placed on the food they eat.”

– Andrew F. Smith

Another Letter to the Editor of mine to our local newspaper published. What’s interesting about this one is the title: Writers of letters aren’t allowed to assign a title; the editors just pick a key word or phrase from the letter, and the title they assigned my letter are words I did not write but seems to answer my “No reason given”. 

As if the editors agree that what I wrote is the reason why Cracker Barrel decided not to come here after all.

[The editors wrote]:

Why Cracker Barrel said no to [our city]

[I’d wrote]:

I read that Cracker Barrel announced it would open a restaurant [here] and then opted out. No reason given. However, here’s a hint: a corporate spokesperson said, “All our [resturants] have… decor on the walls … which we customize to the local community.”

Maybe they saw what we see, daily, that epitomizes our community and couldn’t figure out an illustrative decor that wouldn’t be off-putting and nauseous to diners: Homeless people pushing overfilled, stolen shopping carts down the street, panhandlers on every freeway off-ramp, children holding handwritten signs on intersection islands pleading for help to pay for some family member’s funeral, streets and freeways cluttered with trash, blood on a sidewalk from the latest gang shoot-out, unsightly, unmaintained absentee-landlord apartment complexes, neighborhoods where every third yard is brown and dead, or ubiquitous yard sales? But that’s just a partial list.

I’ve been to a couple of Cracker Barrels back East. Their decor is kinda cutsie-hokey. The food’s just OK, no better than any other chain. However, they don’t serve alcoholic beverages. I’d eat there if one was here, if I could have a drink to take the edge off what I see in our city on the way there.

– [my name]

Now, don’t think for a moment that the above descriptions are totally indicative of my city; large parts are absent of those negatives, but they tend to be more residential and wealthier enclaves, just like any other major metropolis.

I could have listed many more possible reasons Cracker Barrel might choose to stay away from our community – like our overwhelmingly un/under- educated and unskilled workforce, or the excessively high poverty rate that would preclude the ability to dine out regularly – but letter writers are limited to only 200 words.

I could have also further opined in my letter that, like so many other American cities, we just don’t need any more chain resturants. Their food tastes okay – at best – but isn’t the healthiest. Not so say, in all honesty, that I don’t frequent those we do have here – I do (out of necessity if I want to not cook at home). And that’s not to say that I don’t always dislike the experience when I do.

But what’s needed everywhere are some more locally owned and operated resturants that serve well-prepared, quality meals, where one can get a real dining experience in a unique atmosphere (and not cookie-cutter-the-same-everywhere-decour/motif) and, unlike chain resturants, where customers don’t feel like pigs being led in, slopped, and encouraged to leave quickly. I know we have some, been to a few (and enjoyed them immensely). Just wish there were more for a greater variety.

That’s something I’d drink a toast to.

I and my wife, but more so one of my sons and I, have in the past discovered some fine local places to dine, both here in town and elsewhere where we commonly travel. Unfortunately, it has been our experience that those places quickly go out of business. Maybe it’s their smaller size, their more off-the-beaten-path location, or their slightly higher prices (compared to the chains).

I don’t know, but it’s frustrating.

It’s become something of a family joke – if we find a great little local resturant, and if we eat there more than twice, it’ll have closed and gone out of business by the next time we go there. Seriously, it’s happened many times.

Alas. C’est la vie.

– Bill


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