Not your cup of tea?

Ten of us were having dinner at a private style restaurant. Unlike mom and pop “family style” diners, which serve standardized fare at similar prices, a private style restaurant caters to the discerning rich, who have a good relationship with the owners. Trust and taste define this good relationship. Guests trust that the owner will provide quality tea, food, and service for a price that includes a “reasonable” profit. In turn, the owner trusts that these guests not only desire, but also can afford high quality teas, expertly brewed, seafood delicacies and soups adorned with beautifully shaped fungi. There is a menu, but it seems to be used for pedagogical purposes, including the health benefits of particular foods and herbs. Consequently, guests don’t order individual dishes, instead a meal’s host discusses a menu with the owner, who then plans the meal. The price of the meal is either set ahead of time (the host setting an upper limit, for example) or, if the guest returns regularly, the owner can plan a meal based on the number of guests. Special requests for imported seafood can be accommodated with 24-hour notice. Private style restaurants set the stage for intimate displays of taste and friendship. Sharing a meal of this quality, for example, enabled my friend both to demonstrate how much he cares for us (because the food is outstanding) and to show off how very good his good life is (because really, the food is that outstanding. And the tea. Wow.)

Bourdieu, of course, has reminded us that elites use aesthetic distinction or good taste to solidify class identity, arguing that cultivated predispositions to certain foods, music, and art enable us to recognize relative social status; we “like” that which is appropriate to our social position and “dislike” that which is not. Continue reading