I don’t know about you, but I found that among my friends, the default position for getting together was always going out to a restaurant for lunch or dinner and sometimes even for breakfast.
When two of us women finally hit upon a mutually acceptable date, the next question was always, “Where should we go?”
Forget “cocooning” at home – a fantasy probably dreamed up by the marketing team at Williams Sonoma – going out was the expected and expensive way to spend a few hours with friends.
Even before the pandemic, this always struck me as somewhat ludicrous. We all had perfectly acceptable homes, some of which could even be considered stunning, so why were we rushing to places that could only be described as “joints.”
Maybe it’s because I’m not a foodie, but I never got the romance of the restaurant. At least in the old days people dressed to go out for dinner, so there was something to look forward to. Today, you’d never know from the attire on display if you were in a locker room or a high-priced restaurant.
And speaking of high prices, did you notice how they’ve shot up on menus in the last year? Although I’m only slightly above Abe Lincoln in culinary discernment – he apparently ate only to fill ‘er up – even I find our local fare overpriced and underwhelming. But I digress…
It’s not to say my friends and I never entertained at home, but the way we did it was never entirely satisfying, either. We would make dinner parties in which the women cooked and the men served drinks.
The hostess was always jumping up to bring in food or check on something in the kitchen, and she seemed neither relaxed nor “there.”
Alternatively, we sometimes resorted to the potluck, which for some reason brought out the worst in me. I mean, were we still living on the frontier, schlepping covered baskets to the community hoedown? Hee-haw.
Finally, we might invite everyone we knew to the Fourth of July barbecue or New Year’s Eve open house. Ugh! As a guest, you either got stranded with a bore and no rescue in sight, or you stuck with people you knew in the belief that safe was better than sorry.
Enter the Coronavirus. In the beginning we just stayed home, and I had nothing to complain about. Although after three months of lockdown, anything or anyone, even the aforementioned bore, would have been a welcome change.
But a funny thing happened on the way to reopening: The Visit, that relic of a slower time, came back into vogue.
I was very familiar with The Visit because as a child I lived across the street from my grandparents, who were big on friends stopping by. It was just accepted that on Sunday people would go out for a stroll and come to my grandparents’ house for tea and cake.
They had a red-brick back porch that featured a comfy glider shaded by a huge green awning. This setup kept the temperature pleasant on even the hottest days and fostered a general and delicious feeling of languor.
I don’t remember if the conversation was scintillating or superficial, but I do remember how easy everyone seemed.
At first, my husband and I recreated The Visit via Zoom, and that was fine for a while. Then, just as the novelty was wearing off, California began to open up.
We were intrigued but couldn’t imagine how two couples could practice social distancing at one table. Once again, we had to reimagine The Visit, luckily in the summertime.
I’m happy to report that it’s been great! We sit in our friends’ backyards or they sit in ours. The hostess just puts out a few nibbles and provides iced tea or wine. The more cautious among us bring their own food and drink.
Since it’s pretty chilly when the sun goes down in Santa Barbara, we’ve moved up the cocktail hour – or teatime, if you prefer – to 3 or 4 pm, which makes a nice segue into dinner at home, on our own.
It’s amazing how much more present and engaged everyone is during the old-fashioned Visit. We can actually have a substantive discussion without being interrupted by a waiter who wants to share his personal food preferences or a hostess who is running back and forth to the kitchen.
As a result, I’m getting to really know my friends in a way I never did before, and I’m finding it very satisfying.
A variation on The Visit is The Walk. This has been another eye-opening experience for those of us who never took long walks or only walked with a podcast for company. I always found walking tedious, but now the time flies by as I schmooze with a friend outdoors, especially if the scenery is restful.
When the stores were still closed, I even went with a girlfriend to an outdoor mall, where we pressed our noses to the glass like kids gazing longingly at a candy store window. Even sitting on a bench with someone – wearing masks and sitting 6 feet apart, of course – provides a lovely respite from house arrest.
Thanks to Covid-19, my husband and I have totally revised our idea of what “going out” means, and I just hope our friends will go along with us once everything returns to normal.
Just think about it – no fancy cooking, no cleanup afterward, no agonizing over what to bring to the potluck, no harried hostesses, no stilted small talk, no overpriced, noisy restaurants (well, maybe now and then…). What a wonderful world that would be!
Have you scaled back on eating out? How do you and your friends generally socialize? What’s different about the way you interact with friends before the pandemic and now? Please share your comments with our community!