Casualization - Embracing the Zeitgeist of an Oppressive Society | Notes from a Loudmouth With an Affinity for Philosophy

Scene from Brooklyn 99
September 18, 2013

San Diego Magazine's resident food critic Troy Johnson has struck up an interesting debate with his article Casual Hex in San Diego, an entertaining and philosophical read on a fascinating subject - the modern trend toward casualizing the dining experience. Bertrand Hug of the legendary San Diego fine dining establishments, Betrand at Mister A's and Mille Fleurs, has already chimed in on the subject, as has Chef Matt Gordon of Sea & Smoke, Urban Solace and Solace and the Moonlight Lounge. As a San Diego loudmouth, I just had to get in on this action, interject, and toss my own two cents into the debate!

Restaurants moving toward a more casual experience is a result of the Zeitgeist - the spirit of our time. For us 99%, we live in a capitalistic society, where daily life involves extreme efforts put forth for minuscule results, and many of us are constantly left struggling under the watchful eye of an oppressive authority, whether it our boss, the government, etc. We as a culture are finally reaching the point where we're sick enough of being told what to do that we are digging our heels in the best we know how (or the only way we are empowered to!). We don't want to be made to feel less than anyone else with dress codes, $200 bottles of wine or waiter condescension - we choose to go out for a night on the town to relish in our (long lost) freedoms, not to suffer under more rules and restrictions. We want comfort, damn it; pure, unadulterated comfort.

If you don't surround yourself with ignoramuses and imbeciles, you've also noticed the growing trends toward sustainability and minimalism. As the condition of our environment moves closer to dire, the conscious are becoming more cautious of the impact our actions may have on the ecosystem (if you're not living under a rock you've heard the term carbon footprint at least a million times). There's an island of garbage the size of Texas floating in the Pacific Ocean, damnit! We don't need more - we need to reuse and severely limit waste. Thus, we are reusing wood, recycling industrial materials into design implements, and embracing that 'less-is-more" approach to life and business. Or at least, that's what we should be doing. That's what we're doing here, right guys?

For many Americans, it's not so easy to stay afloat in this economy. Entrepreneurs shouldn't be limited to old world, fine-dining mores in order to open a restaurant that puts out elegant dishes. The food is what's really important anyway, and you can have great service without shoving a stick up a waiter's ass.

As the hipster culture demonstrates, there is a change in actual style taking place - a casualization of class, if you will. Suits with sneakers and a t-shirt? Glasses with no lenses? The style is classy, yet rebellious. We want to look like cool reflections of our former, formal selves, all while flipping the bird to the man.  If style stayed the same, we'd all still be wearing white wigs and corsets.

Troy Johnson is fortunate, like I am at this point - we aren't forced to formalize ourselves on a daily basis. I worked a job where I had to wear a suit everyday, day in and day out, even if I never left my desk or spoke with anyone else. F that! Now, I'll dress up when it's appropriate - and if I don't know when it's appropriate, then I'm a boob. Wearing flip flops or tank tops to Bertrand? That's nonsensical, and the person who does that is evidently a self-consumed dope, rebelling for all the wrong reasons, with no understanding of style. Blame his mother.

It's not the end of fine dining at all. Fine dining doesn't have to be defined by white linen table clothes and endless rows of useless silver ware. It's great service, a nicely designed decor and food done well and plated beautifully. Fine dining appears to be embracing the Zeitgeist and evolving its style to utilize these trends, and even takes them to the next level. Who's doing this in San Diego? Brian Malarkey, Matt Gordon, Tracy Borkum, Hanis Cavin - restaurateurs making good food fun.

We all have our principles, and for restaurants like Bertand at Mister A's, there will always be a client base seeking that elegant dining experience. We need restaurants like that, just as we need restaurants like Carnitas Snack Shack and every spectrum beyond and in between. Diversity is key, but the trend is currently casual, and to be honest, I hope it stays that way.

"In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock." ~Thomas Jefferson