Pete Wells on Why Restaurants Can Be More Important Than Post Offices4

New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells makes a profound point about the importance of restaurants and fundraising in our post-Hurricane Sandy New York. Here’s what he has to say: 

  • A good restaurant can be more important to its neighborhood than the post office. I suspect that’s why so many people have been donating to the many fund-raising sites set up by flooded restaurants. I can’t think of many for-profit businesses that people would pay to subsidize without getting a direct return on their investment. But if the place where families go to celebrate birthdays just disappears one day, it can leave a big hole in the community.” 

What Wells is saying reminds me of the way society, particularly the wealthy, subsidizes artists. Whether through foundation-supported grants, or direct gifts from high-net worth individuals, artists depend on our support to do what they do. And I’m not just talking about buying their paintings or photos; I also mean simply giving them money, without the expectation of something immediate or tangible in return, because we know that doing so will let the artist continue his or her lifestyle, and hopefully make our world a better place. 

Sometimes, members of the culinary cognoscenti tend to think of restaurants in very transactional terms; just look at my blog, The Price Hike, dedicated to tracking the minute (and sometimes not-so-minute) price changes at restaurants across the U.S. You really don’t get more transactional than that, and I’m okay with that, because, well, that’s what I do, and we only have so much money to spend! 

But the reason this quote by Mr. Wells strikes a cord with me is because he’s encouraging us to contemplate the joy of restaurants in terms that transcend “I pay $58 for a steak and I get twenty-two ounces of USDA Prime in return,” or even, “I’m donating $500 to this GoFundMe account and hopefully the restaurant will give me a signed cookbook as a present.”

This quote is about restaurants not just as businesses but as community centers, places that make us happy for reasons we can’t necessarily put a finger on, and sometimes it’s hard to put a quantifiable price on that.  

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