I’ve laughed at a great joke at a restaurant.
I’ve nervously met my interviewer at a restaurant.
I’ve joyfully accepted a job at a restaurant.
I’ve held the hand of my love at a restaurant.
I’ve listened as a friend has told me about her painful divorce at a restaurant.
I’ve cried when a friend has told me something deeply hurtful about their history at a restaurant.
I’ve felt vulnerable as I’ve told a friend something deeply personal about my history at a restaurant.
I’ve celebrated a friend’s promotion at a restaurant.
I’ve celebrated a milestone birthday at a restaurant [and many others].
I’ve celebrated the birthdays of many friends at a restaurant.
I’ve been shocked by the telling of a story at a restaurant.
I’ve been touched by a compliment given to me at a restaurant.
I’ve been enriched by all the company I’ve kept at restaurants.
This is why restaurants are such vital* parts of our communities.
They are where we feel things.
Sometimes we dine alone, but more often, we’re with others, engaging them and participating in community.
As human beings, this is essential.
Sharing stories, experiences, laughter, tears, joy, shock.
They are the third place** – the necessary social spaces – as Ray Oldenburg outlined in his book, The Great Good Place.
Of course the food, drink and hospitality greatly matter as well, and we’ll only return to places where all three are satisfying to us, so we can feel comfortable having human experiences there, while being nourished in quality ways.
*The word vital comes from vita, meaning life.
**The third place is a term used in the concept of community building to refer to social surroundings separate from the two usual social environments of home and the workplace. In his influential book, The Great Good Place, Ray Oldenburg argues that third places are important for civil society, democracy, civic engagement, and establishing feelings of a sense of place. [Wikipedia.org]