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Distracted Dining: Tiny dining

In this column, Nancy shares her enjoyment of tiny restaurant dining

Tiny​ ​restaurants​ ​have​ ​become​ ​a​ ​trendy​ ​thing. ​It’s​ ​a​ ​great​ ​business​ ​model. ​​Small​ ​spaces allow​ ​restaurateurs​ ​to​ ​be​ ​frugal, ​​buy​ ​without​ ​debt​ ​and​ ​not​ ​spend​ ​money​ ​they​ ​don’t​ ​have. Restaurant​ ​owners​ ​can​ ​save​ ​money​ ​all​ ​around,​ ​including​ ​servers​ ​doing​ ​double-duty​ ​with clean-up;​ ​chefs​ ​throwing​ ​towels​ ​in​ ​the​ ​laundry​ ​in​ ​the​ ​back​ ​-​ ​no​ ​laundry​ ​service​ ​required and​ ​even​ ​forgoing​ ​a​ ​dishwasher​ ​-​ ​dishes​ ​can​ ​be​ ​done​ ​while​ ​doing​ ​service.​ ​​​Servers​ ​are much​ ​more​ ​involved​ ​in​ ​the​ ​total​ ​process,​ ​but​ ​there​ ​are​ ​less​ ​of​ ​them,​ ​which​ ​is​ ​also​ ​a savings​ ​to​ ​the​ ​owners.​ ​Rent​ ​is​ ​cheaper​ ​and​ ​the​ ​return​ ​is​ ​quicker.

Menus​ ​can​ ​be​ ​replaced​ ​by​ ​the​ ​chalk-board​ ​daily​ ​features.​​​ ​This​ ​saves​ ​on​ ​both​ ​ends​ ​-​ ​no printing​ ​costs​ ​and​ ​limited​ ​quantities​ ​of​ ​food​ ​can​ ​be​ ​purchased​ ​to​ ​prepare.​ ​In​ ​fact,​ ​food pretty​ ​much​ ​has​ ​to​ ​be​ ​in​ ​limited​ ​quantities​ ​as​ ​there​ ​is​ ​no​ ​place​ ​to​ ​​​store​ ​excess.​ ​​​When the​ ​last​ ​goose​ ​is​ ​cooked,​ ​it’s​ ​merely​ ​erased​ ​from​ ​the​ ​board​ ​and​ ​the​ ​selection​ ​is​ ​reduced by​ ​one.​ ​​Somehow,​ ​this​ ​is​ ​totally​ ​acceptable​ ​in​ ​a​ ​tiny​ ​restaurant.​ ​​​The​ ​seemingly freshness​ ​of​ ​the​ ​food,​ ​be​ ​it​ ​real​ ​or​ ​imagined,​ ​is​ ​regarded​ ​as​ ​a​ ​feature.

In​ ​tiny​ ​restaurants, ​​there’s​ ​no​ ​room​ ​for​ ​error. ​​No​ ​dropping​ ​dishes​ ​and​ ​candles​ ​are strategically​ ​placed​ ​to​ ​avoid​ ​guests’​ ​flowing​ ​clothing​ ​and​ ​all​ ​things​ ​plastic. The​ ​design and​ ​build​ ​must​ ​consider​ ​the​ ​final​ ​functioning​ ​like​ ​a​ ​well-oiled​ ​machine.

There’s​ ​so​ ​much​ ​to​ ​see,​ ​do​ ​and​ ​hear​ ​in​ ​a​ ​small​ ​dining​ ​establishment.​​​ ​The​ ​chef’s​ ​prep counter​ ​transforms​ ​into​ ​table​ ​entertainment.​ ​​​Where​ ​it​ ​used​ ​to​ ​be​ ​a​ ​big​ ​deal​ ​for​ ​staff​ ​to whip​ ​up​ ​a​ ​fresh​ ​caesar​ ​salad​ ​tableside,​ ​in​ ​trendy​ ​tiny​ ​restaurants,​ ​you​ ​can​ ​sometimes see​ ​your​ ​whole​ ​meal​ ​prepared.​​​ ​In​ ​fact,​ ​you​ ​can​ ​witness​ ​the​ ​entire​ ​restaurant’s​ ​meal preparation​ ​from​ ​start​ ​to​ ​finish.​ ​​ ​Much​ ​of​ ​the​ ​entertainment​ ​comes​ ​from​ ​watching​ ​the dishes​ ​being​ ​created​ ​and​ ​served​ ​to​ ​tables​ ​close​ ​enough​ ​to​ ​know​ ​what​ ​they’re​ ​eating.

Guests​ ​dining​ ​in​ ​tiny​ ​restaurants​ ​must​ ​learn​ ​to​ ​make​ ​nice​ ​with​ ​their​ ​neighbours. I​ ​always get​ ​the​ ​urge​ ​to​ ​ask​ ​someone​ ​at​ ​the​ ​next​ ​table​ ​to​ ​me​ ​to​ ​pass​ ​the​ ​salt. ​Tables​ ​for​ ​two​ ​are abundant, ​​but​ ​I​ ​wouldn’t​ ​call​ ​it​ ​a​ ​terribly​ ​romantic​ ​setting. It’s​ ​hard​ ​to​ ​have​ ​an​ ​intimate conversation​ ​with​ ​your​ ​table​ ​mate​ ​when​ ​literally​ ​everyone​ ​else​ ​in​ ​the​ ​place​ ​can​ ​see​ ​and possibly​ ​hear​ ​you. This​ ​is​ ​where​ ​some​ ​lovely, ​​soft​ ​background​ ​music​ ​is​ ​appreciated. 

Many​ ​restaurateurs​ ​enjoy​ ​the​ ​buzz​ ​uncomfortable​ ​closeness​ ​creates. ​While​ ​I​ ​enjoy observing​ ​people, ​​I​ ​sometimes​ ​feel​ ​constricted​ ​if​ ​the​ ​layout​ ​of​ ​the​ ​place​ ​is​ ​not​ ​done​ ​well. It’s​ ​uncomfortable​ ​to​ ​try​ ​and​ ​wiggle​ ​your​ ​way​ ​out​ ​of​ ​a​ ​chair​ ​that​ ​you​ ​can’t​ ​push​ ​back​ ​far enough​ ​from​ ​the​ ​table, ​​or​ ​conversely, ​​you​ ​have​ ​to​ ​pull​ ​up​ ​way​ ​too​ ​close​ ​to​ ​the​ ​table​ ​so the​ ​person​ ​behind​ ​you​ ​has​ ​room​ ​to​ ​get​ ​in. ​That’s​ ​a​ ​little​ ​too​ ​close. ​​Chairs​ ​seem narrower​ ​and​ ​they’re​ ​definitely​ ​closer​ ​together. For​ ​introverts, ​​there’s​ ​way​ ​too​ ​many strangers​ ​sitting​ ​in​ ​close​ ​quarters, ​​invading​ ​your​ ​space.

For​ ​me, ​ ​the​ ​energy​ ​in​ ​the​ ​room​ ​is​ ​fantastic. Even​ ​though​ ​the​ ​menu​ ​is​ ​limited, ​​I​ ​get​ ​so distracted​ ​by​ ​all​ ​the​ ​goings​ ​on​ ​of​ ​others, ​​I​ ​typically​ ​take​ ​much​ ​longer​ ​to​ ​order​ ​and appreciate​ ​it​ ​taking​ ​awhile​ ​to​ ​be​ ​prepared​ ​and​ ​served. ​​Basically, ​​I​ ​want​ ​to​ ​​over-hear the​ ​whole​ ​story​ ​of​ ​the​ ​table​ ​beside​ ​me​ ​before​ ​my​ ​main​ ​meal​ ​is​ ​presented. ​The​ ​stories! They​ ​make​ ​General​ ​Hospital; ​​Days​ ​of​ ​our​ ​Lives​ ​and​ ​the​ ​Young​ ​and​ ​the​ ​Restless​ ​seem like​ ​boring​ ​old​ ​soap​ ​operas!

Mirrors​ ​are​ ​popular​ ​in​ ​tiny​ ​restaurants​ ​and​ ​they​ ​are​ ​used​ ​to​ ​make​ ​spaces​ ​seem​ ​a​ ​little bigger. Decor​ ​is​ ​typically​ ​simple, ​​homey, ​​classic. ​Black​ ​and​ ​white, ​​orb​ ​lights, ​​wood, clean, ​​crisp​ ​design​ ​lines. ​Tiny​ ​restaurant​ ​owners​ ​agree​ ​for​ ​the​ ​most​ ​part, ​they​ ​want​ ​their places​ ​to​ ​be​ ​like​ ​home. They​ ​want​ ​people​ ​to​ ​feel​ ​like​ ​they​ ​belong​ ​there. A​ ​dinner​ ​party with​ ​lots​ ​of​ ​guests​ ​you​ ​don’t​ ​know. ​​It’s​ ​a​ ​great​ ​feeling, ​​for​ ​most. The​ ​host, more​ ​often than​ ​not​ ​-​ ​the​ ​owner​ ​-​ ​​ ​greets​ ​you​ ​and​ ​the​ ​person​ ​behind​ ​you, ​​and​ ​everyone​ ​feels connected​ ​to​ ​each​ ​other.

Seems​ ​small​ ​places​ ​are​ ​a​ ​respectful​ ​environment​ ​for​ ​dining; ​​enjoying​ ​the​ ​vibe​ ​and​ ​being fully​ ​engaged​ ​in​ ​the​ ​experience. ​The​ ​goal​ ​of​ ​a​ ​tiny​ ​restaurant​ ​is​ ​to​ ​give​ ​more​ ​attentive service​ ​and​ ​serve​ ​superior​ ​food. While​ ​this​ ​isn’t​ ​always​ ​the​ ​case, ​​dinner​ ​at​ ​a​ ​small restaurant​ ​is​ ​special. There’s​ ​the​ ​ambiance, ​​dimmed​ ​lights, ​​soft​ ​music, ​​the​ ​closeness and​ ​the​ ​possible​ ​new​ ​lifelong​ ​friends​ ​who​ ​you​ ​may​ ​meet​ ​by​ ​literally​ ​bumping​ ​into​ ​thee.

For​ ​me, ​it’s​ ​the​ ​plethora​ ​of​ ​distractions​ ​that​ ​accompany​ ​the​ ​meal​ ​that​ ​make​ ​tiny restaurant​ ​dining​ ​a​ ​wonderful​ ​way​ ​to​ ​simultaneously​ ​enjoy​ ​a​ ​good​ ​meal​ ​and​ ​get​ ​my social​ ​fix. 

Nancy​ ​Revie​ ​is​ ​a​ ​Guelph​ ​author, ​​motivational​ ​speaker, ​​fitness​ ​instructor​ ​and​ ​entertainer. Visit​ ​Nancy​ ​at​​ ​​. Her​ ​column​ ​appears​ ​every​ ​other​ ​week.