There was a time when one dressed for dinner, never mind dressing up to go out to eat whether as a guest at someone’s home or as a customer in a restaurant. If you came in from the fields or a factory you did not sit down in your work garb for the evening meal. Dinner had a status; it was an occasion even if the home or away food was mediocre and so the occasion merited a dress code. It did not have to be fancy now; it just meant the diner made some sort of effort and not turning up scruffy. In my lifetime the idea of this tradition has been completely eroded by the rise of informality and so called smart casual attire. The idea of even eating together dinner at a table has near disappeared too.
I recall my first eighties hotel job owner and his wife always changing into their formal clothes before sauntering into their very own dining room at seven o clock each evening for prawn cocktail, steak Diane and black forest gateau with a bottle of Blue Nun. You would also see people getting ready for dinner in the movies.
Snooty maitre d’ s would produce ties for the open necked gentleman at posh hotel receptions before permitting them entry to the restaurant. In fairness I was always more inclined to engage with my own customers who had demonstrated that they had some way dressed for dinner and not just rocked up to eat my food in runners and baseball caps.
Modern life has changed all this. I remember being shocked seeing customers in ripped jeans and t shirts at the Ritz and at Marco, Gordon and Nico’s three star Michelin Mecca’s in London back in the nineties and some of them just eating with a fork. As the boom hit Ireland all dressing up bets were off at the high end establishments here as well I noticed. I suppose if you are going to pay hundreds for food it does not matter what type of pocket it comes out of, it’s all gratefully received.
Formal dining has changed as well of course, the idea of restaurants dripping with high ceilings, gold panels, chandeliers, fine linen, cut crystal and fine china is fast disappearing. I have eaten in plenty of these holy culinary grails and to be honest they are a little overwhelming especially when the amount of staff outnumbers the diners. It’s like being on a movie set and everyone has to play a part. It is even worse if the food does not live up to the price and as a foodie customer that is the ultimate let down. It is tough to face paying a big bill when that happens. I learned of one place in France where the car you drove up the drive in then determined if there was a walk in table available for you upon your arrival at the reception.
So what for the future? Well the golden days are over. Anything goes now, even in business meetings it has all dumbed down. The idea of dressing up for dinner is just about reserved now for the likes of weddings and funerals, if you are lucky enough to get the honour of guests even making an effort for you there, either dead or alive. They said clothes maketh the man and woman, not anymore methinks. It is sad that our attire in this age has kind of being cast aside along with eating in groups as a species, even the chimps still eat together. Food deserves a ceremony or sense of occasion. Alas it has been relegated and never to be held in such esteem again. At least there are still signs in the holiday resorts saying no beachwear or flip flops in the restaurant, so there is some hope then but don’t count on it.