Chapter 7

Urban pleasure?

On the meaning of eating out in a northern city

Lydia Martens and Alan Warde


DINING OUT

Public dining is an integral aspect of urban living and its relative invisibility as a research topic reflects the extent to which food and eating is a taken-for-granted aspect of everyday life.

(Wood 1992:5)

The habit of eating out for pleasure has spread to a large proportion of the population. Most people eat out sometimes, many do very often. Thus household expenditure on eating out has risen in the recent past. Eating out absorbed about 10 per cent of household food expenditure in 1960, but 21 per cent by 1993. A recent report (Payne and Payne, 1993) estimated that in 1992 the eating out market was worth £16.6 billion. There are many different ways in which prepared foods are obtained in contemporary Britain. People buy take-away meals and snacks, eat in works canteens, visit family and friends, and buy meals from establishments on whose premises they are eaten. This chapter is concerned with only the last category—with the occasions and sites for eating away from home, where a meal is purchased to be eaten on the premises, in cafes or restaurants.

One of the distinctive features of eating out in a commercial setting is that one does something quintessentially familial—sitting down, for some considerable period of time, at table, to eat—but in the visible presence of strangers. Most commentators have probably interpreted this largely twentieth-century development as a positive one. It has been considered part of a democratic process whereby an activity that was once a luxury restricted to elites has come within reach of the whole population. The value of the place of public refreshment as a site for social participation has

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