Declining Dining

For a busy and broke college student, getting out to a sit-down restaurant every Saturday night isn’t exactly a priority. In fact, restaurants like Yardhouse, Woodranch, and The Cheesecake Factory at the Irvine Spectrum are usually a little off-putting, with their extensive wait times at peak dinner hours. The novelty of enjoying a night out at a sit-down restaurant can be enjoyable if you save it for a special occasion, but most of the time, we don’t bother.

As noted by the Business and Money section of Time Magazine, many so-called “fast-casual” restaurants are becoming more and more popular among customers. This can be evidenced by the fact that our own University Town Center just opened up a Chipotle not two miles from the nearest one. Other fast-casual restaurants like Panera Bread, The Corner Bakery, and Blaze Pizza are also popular, particularly among college students, for their higher quality, cheaper food, and the option of making it a sit-down restaurant experience without the extra time and expense.

In short, sit-down restaurants are losing their appeal to fast-casual restaurants for the same reason that a lot of products and services go in and out of style: convenience. During finals week, for example, you might see a quick bite at Corner Bakery with your friends as a rewarding break that doesn’t take away too much of your study time, while trying to get a meal at Olive Garden might seem like another stressor, with the time it takes to be seated, order, get your drinks, get your food, and pay.

There is also the issue of tipping. People tend to have mixed opinions on whether tipping is “right” or “deserved.” Those who have worked in the food service industry will tell you that it is appreciated, at the very least. For college students, it might seem like an unnecessary expense and therefore we might opt for a more casual dining option. But even with our culture of tipping, we might consider ourselves lucky. In many European countries, tipping is not customary, but there is often a cover charge for the atmosphere of the sit-down restaurant, no matter how large or small your check might be.

With the rise in convenient eating options, sit-down restaurants may be on the decline. How should we feel about that, and should we be trying to revive the practice of going to sit-down restaurants? Perhaps this is a byproduct of our generation. Middle-aged people are more likely to appreciate the appeal of a sit-down restaurant, and perhaps even the luxury of being served after a hard day (and life!) of working for other people, whether it be at the office or for the kids. Many of my peers, however, seem to express the desire to spend money (and time) on entertainment such as concerts, festivals or travel. It’s difficult to determine whether those priorities will change as we move forward with our lives or whether our generation will always have different priorities, but for now we place less value on sit-down restaurants.

For those whose livelihood depends on the sit-down restaurants, it is a shame to see their business declining, particularly if it is a family affair. But perhaps they are not doomed, if they would make dining more accessible by adding delivery or take-out options. Perhaps they simply need to change with the times.

 

Karam Johal is a fourth-year women’s studies major. She can be reached at johalk@uci.edu.