My family ate out tonight at a Muncie restaurant and had a perfectly fine experience. We like to patronize both local and chain restaurants, mixing it up when we go out to eat. A favorite is a favorite, whether homegrown or the bright idea of somebody elsewhere, but we feel good when we’re patronizing locally-owned eateries.
While we – like a lot of people – have been eating lunch and dinner at home more in the past couple of years in large part because of the economy, eating out is still a part of our lives.
But I’m startled sometimes to remember how little my family went out to restaurants when I was a kid.
It’s not uncommon for us now to eat dinner out two or three times a week, but going to a restaurant was a rare thing when I was a kid. I’m not even talking about special occasion-type dining out. Maybe it was because my dad – a factory worker and farmer – was the sole wage-earner in the house and money seemed dear if not tight. There were not a lot of special occasions that involved an expensive meal out.
But maybe it was because there just weren’t that many restaurants back then.
Is that possible? I know there were restaurants around Muncie – several downtown, including the Rivoli diner and the Chinese restaurant, among others – and several on the southside, where we lived, including the Pixie Diner, Jimmy Carter’s Skyline, the near-downtown Big Wheel and a smattering of others.
But I honestly can’t recall a restaurant my family patronized on a regular basis … except for McDonald’s. I still vividly remember my dad driving into town to get hamburgers and French Fries at McDonald’s on the occasional Friday night. He would bring home the sack and my brothers and I would fall on it like wolves.
And my mom, bless her, would hold back a hamburger to offer me late that night when “Sammy Terry” was on Channel 4. I really wanted to watch Sammy’s old movie offerings but it was hard for me to stay up that late. So mom would offer me a nearly-midnight-snack of a McDonald’s burger as a waker-upper. I will forever associate McDonald’s burgers with my mom and Sammy Terry.
My parents ate out a lot more after I was an adult, partly because they felt like they could afford to and partly because my mom in particular felt like she had cooked enough for one lifetime.
But my dad was still inclined to cast a skeptical glance at the prices on the menu, even when he wasn’t picking up the check. I think growing up during the Depression, scratching for a living and putting in long hours in a hot factory for most of his life left him less inclined to throw a lot of money around in restaurants. Except for the occasional bag of burgers from McDonald’s.