Think of a Restaurant as Your Barber Shop
That is, if it’s a good one…
Throughout January, we’ll be posting reported features, essays, lists, and more around our monthly theme: Comfort.
I used to go to this salon in the West Village where I paid an exorbitant amount of money for a haircut. I loved the place. I loved the guy who cut my hair and the haircut itself.
Now, older, wiser, and less inclined to chase trends, I go to a dusty old barber shop on the Upper East Side. You can probably picture the place. The right amount of patina. Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald on the stereo. An avuncular owner, who greets me with the perfectly calibrated degree of tough love, as if to say, “Christ, this guy again.” It has toys and trinkets hanging from the ceiling — you’d think I was at ‘21.’
What I’m saying is, the place charms me the same way a favorite restaurant would.
The easiest takeaway from this analogy is that your favorite restaurants should feel comforting in the same why my local barber feels comforting. And that’s true. I’d argue that even the finest of fine dining spots should, on some level, operate like a no-frills comfort food joint, which is probably why you’d have a hard time finding a restaurant—even a Michelin-starred spot—without a hamburger on the menu these days.
Of course this is not a one size fits all argument. While to me my UES barber shop feels like a familiar warm blanket, to others it might feel dated, basic, or overtly masculine. On the flip side, other people might feel extremely at ease in the type of sleek downtown salon I once found slightly intimidating. Different stokes, blah blah blah.
Whatever your choice, be it barber or salon, the real tie to restaurants is that these types of places know what you need more than you know what you need. I thought about this the other day when I walked into my barber, stressed, rushed, and in dire need of a trim. There was a new guy working, the only barber who could take me, and yet I quickly knew I was in good hands, everything done with a sharp economy of movement. When he’d finished, he bent down to my level so that we could both assess my haircut side-by-side in the mirror. “You see,” he said, “handsome.”
A good barber or hairstylist sees a version of yourself that perhaps you’ve lost site of, and the same holds true for restaurants. The bartender who suggests that toasty reposado. The somm who hears your distaste for chardonnay, yet blows your mind with a dry bottle of Burgundy. The server who steers you toward the branzino. These folks believe in you. It doesn’t matter that you’ve spent the better part of January ordering takeout and bed rotting in front of The Golden Bachelor, here, at their establishment, you’re a sophisticated bon vivant. And because of that you rise to the occasion, become part of the show, even if in the end you wind up ordering the burger like you always do.
And that’s part of the magic, isn’t it? I’ll say it again because it bears repeating: the best restaurants, and the best hospitality experiences in general, believe in you more than you believe in yourself.
Just make sure to get a haircut first.
Blackbird Labs, Inc.