An Affluence Effect on Dining?

dollar signNow, a little side rant.

In the middle of my recent dinner at Eden Hill, two young IT guys dressed in jeans got seated next to me. This is an intimate restaurant, with seating tight unless you get one of the two window tables, so you’re essentially elbow-to-elbow with your neighbors.

It wasn’t really eavesdropping to hear them say, “Sure, let’s do the wine pairings, too. It’s only 30 bucks more.”

And it wasn’t really pleasant to hear the incessant beeping of their phones as they received emails and text messages. They stared at their devices more than at each other.

These guys might as well have been eating TV dinners at home.

Such is the Seattle dining scene these days. This city is experiencing an increasing gap between rich and poor, with the middle class disappearing. The wealthy can drop $100 or more per person for a meal without worry. So many are basically just keeping company with their phones, and then using them to shoot photos to show the world what they’re eating.

For me, a meal at a place like Eden Hill is a special occasion, saved for a birthday or anniversary celebration. (Yes, I’ll be obnoxiously taking photos, too, but that’s my job—albeit a laughingly low-paying one.) As the Canlis brothers frequently say, some people save up their money all year, or even their whole lives, for such a special occasion meal.

On this particular occasion, Eden Hill hosted my meal, for which I’m grateful. Had I been paying, I would have found the neighboring table’s behavior even more disappointing. Dare I suggest that I find the affluence effect on the dining scene to be a bit disconcerting? (Not to mention the impact of the growing income gap on our society as a whole.)

2 Responses to “An Affluence Effect on Dining?”

  1. Bruce
    January 4, 2016 at 11:55 am #

    The cellphone beeping and excessive use is more rude than affluence-related. It happens across all wealth levels. I think your point is that affluent people treat expensive restaurants as commonplace now and therefore aren’t on their best behavior there — and I agree — but at its root the issue is one of manners. On a slightly related note, 20 years ago the guys sitting elbow-to-elbow with you would not have been texting, but they might have been smoking.

    As for speaking blithely about wealth, well, that’s mildly annoying just like people who say things that offend me about politics, sex, etc. I hate tight seating in restaurants, but more because neighbors can hear me than vice versa. Not sure what the solution is.

  2. Jay
    January 4, 2016 at 12:25 pm #

    Thanks for the comment, Bruce. In my attempt to be concise, I’ve surely clumped together a bunch of issues! Among them:
    1. The discomfort of tight seating. (Related: My frustration that so many restaurateurs seem to like the “energy” of noisy environments.)
    2. The general annoyance of cellphones.
    3. My general concerns about the increasing wealth gap in society.
    4. My specific concern about the economy’s impact on restaurant culture. Nicer restaurants are increasingly out of range for middle and lower-class people.
    5. The impact of social media, and its “look at me, I live the high/perfect life” mentality. I’ve been guilty of this, which is why I’ve moved most of my dining/travels (which is typically hosted or done using points/miles/rewards) off of my personal Facebook page. I believe that social media is leading to an increasingly superficial society in which most people don’t even communicate with each other in a meaningful way, yet we want to show off our 12-course meals and yachting expeditions and the like to so-called “friends” we’re getting to know less and less well. For many (not all), I think wealth exacerbates this issue. On a personal level, I feel like I’ve lost some friendships with people who’ve become wealthy and live lifestyles I can’t keep up with…and they’ve “moved on.” It makes me appreciate even more the friendships I’ve managed to maintain across all class lines.

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