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 www.nancyrevie.com. Her column appears every other week.