There’s more to a foodie than an Instagram account full of carefully curated mouthwatering food pictures selling a lifestyle. Foodies aren’t just “wannabe influencers”. Many of them are people appreciating hospitality.
To understand foodies a little bit better, pondering what it is that brings them to restaurants, cafes and patisseries is essential. Rokuhoudou Yotsuiro Biyori is one of the very few food-themed anime that doesn’t revolve around fanservice and food preparation as much as around the relationship between waiters, cooks and customers. So it makes an excellent example for illustrating the essence of hospitality.
Let’s start with the obvious. As mentioned above, what looks good is one reason that attracts foodies into all sort of famous or well-kept secret places, in small pockets in the city or in quiet villages and suburbs. This isn’t something to underestimate. Visuals play a big role in appetite. There’s a reason we call this “eye candy”. The fact that even nicely-drawn images of food instigate salivation and hunger should say something on itself. You can even try eating with your eyes closed to understand how taste is influenced by visual cues. Gourmands aren’t a new concept either. Apicius, a Roman of 1st century A.B., swore by his motto “We eat first with our eyes”.
Research comes to back these realisations up. Food served in an artistic way is reported to taste better. Art and beauty matter to human beings. Biology interprets this as the brain’s function to forage. It’s no coincidence that our eyes and mouths are so close to the brain. It’s seen as an survival evolution mechanism, especially if one considers how the first humans needed to spot and collect their nutrition among lots of greenery.
Architects, interior designers and graphic artists know all too well how different types of visual arrangements have specific effect to the customers. Everything, from the materials used for the furniture to the colour palette to the fonts on the menu and the dinnerware, are there to create a certain atmosphere and cater to a wide variety of demographics. The sum of these details create a brand or reproduce and capture the spirit of a particular culture. Noren curtains, for instance, are quintessentially Japanese, meant not only to create a sense of curiosity and the illusion of a wrapped present but also to make the divide between outside and inside thinner.
It is more economical to cook at home. When you pay to eat out, the money goes to pay the rent of the shop (possibly), the maintenance expenses (electricity, heating etc), and the salary of the staff that also includes their expertise. There are a couple of reasons one may prefer to eat out: a) they’re too tired to cook and don’t want to put time into cooking only for themselves (there’s little motivation for single people to spend 20′-60′ cooking and another 5′ cleaning to eat everything in 10′), b) they aren’t very good at it (but microwaveable food is generally cheaper), c) they want to enjoy the particular cooking of a chef, d) they seek an experience. For a & b, an eatery is good enough, but foodies generally expand their repertoire to places that may hurt your pocket.
Basically, one goes to a restaurant, cafe or a patisserie to indulge themselves. It may range from relieving a craving to taking pleasure in smells and tastes to seeking small luxuries. Luxury in the age of capitalism isn’t only a brand related matter, it’s also a matter of quality of the products and the specific process behind them. Taking the time to roast and/or grind the coffee beans, weigh the right quantity each time for each cup adds value to the coffee served. It’s not just whether it’s a blend or single origin coffee. And even that makes a huge difference. It’s not unusual to decide for someone to buy themselves a good meal as a treat after hard work. It’s definitely not a practical matter but a gesture of reward.
As mentioned before, eating in a beautiful place is an experience. It’s, of course, less dangerous than bungy jumping and more affordable than visiting another country, and if your country is a multicultural one, it may be equally fascinating exploring different cuisines. It may be as simple as walking to the next neighbourhood or catching the train to some suburbs away. The concept of “first time” is connected with the rush of adrenaline since it’s a hunt, an adventure you may have a map from popular apps or magazines. And when you discover a place that feels like haven and dishes that feel like heaven, every time feels like first time. Bulletin Place in Sydney, for example, makes it its purpose to provide constantly new experiences to its customers with new cocktail menu every day.
Memories & Connection
Then again, having dinner out is also connected to dating. It can be a date with a lover, a friend or a business appointment. It’s an act that is associate with prestige but above all with offering a special experience. The euphoric feelings produced while consuming delectable foods get mixed with the feelings of love to flirt and enhance them. In its purest form, sharing food has the aim to share feelings of appreciation and enjoyment, and multiply them. It gives the same thrill of sharing a secret or exchanging exciting news. A girl featured in the anime learns to make matcha ice cream to reach out to her friend who loves ice cream but doesn’t think we’ll of tea. Food, even simple meals like curry, pasta and omurice, creates bonds. Food in a good atmosphere with amicable company creates memories.
Let’s not forget how memories are retained. Our brain is like a small library with organised bookcases and shelves, and memories clutter around a theme to sustain themselves. It’s been proven that memories associated with sensations are more vivid and long-lasting. While eating, all the main senses are activated: the visual of how the food is presented, the pleasant odours arising from the plate, the taste, the texture of the food (touch), and the sounds of our munching and probably of any other music playing in the background. Especially in a restaurant where we go to relax and take it slow, our senses are much more focused.
Last but not least, the most successful cafes are the ones who remember their customers and even know them by name. The fact that someone knows your favourite dish or way to have your coffee speaks familiarity. The customer starts feeling they belong there. They may come exhausted after something awful happened, but the staff there will take care of them with a friendly smile. The owner or the waiter might even inquire about their situation discreetly and caringly.
That’s what ometenashi is all about. It’s a compound word from “Omote” (surface) and “Nashi” (nothing). Namely, hospitality is throwing away pretenses and offering service from the bottom of one’s heart without expecting anything back. Isn’t this what a good family does?
I think of the shop itself as a kind of snack. No one needs coffee or sweets to survive, but they give you a bit of relief.– Sui, Rokuhoudou Yotsuiro Biyori, ep. 1