WILL STRIP FOR FOOD: HOW RESTAURANTS BECAME PEEP-SHOWS
Last week, soon-to-be new restaurant The Bunyadi provocatively declared itself London’s first naked restaurant. Customers will change into provided robes, which they may then cast aside during the meal. Naked and non-naked sections will divide diners, like smoking once did in a more innocent past. And the waiting list already exceeds 5,000 people.
Quite what a hard-pushed traditional family restaurant is thinking as The Bunyadi boisterously butts into the high street, naked member in full view, immediately capturing thousands of eager customers just dying to tear off their clothes during their steak-frites, is anybody’s guess. All that hard work put into perfecting each dish, when they could’ve just not gotten dressed.
You could dismiss The Bunyadi as a shameless PR-stunt, dressed up in elaborate theory and sold with a clickbaity soundbite. But it’s far from alone. In the last few years, this kind of restaurant-as-social-experiment has, worryingly, emerged as a category of its own.
It’s not that I don’t believe in culinary creativity. Food can be merely "fuel", just like sex can be just to make babies. Chefs who surprise us with their food, who write menus as if they were poems, are to be celebrated. But does anyone genuinely believe that eating dinner while naked will actually influence the flavour? I once ate Dominos pizza on the couch naked. And it still tasted like regret. Case closed.
Like you, I eat out whenever I can. Since I’ll eat pretty much anything that doesn’t eat me first, as a Londoner my choices of where to eat out have never been so wide. Should I try that new ginkgo shrub frappe with probiotic-enriched fungal dust everyone’s tweeting about, or just grab my usual quinoa in jus of aspirin at the Catalunyan-Korean fusion kitchen down the road? These are exciting times, even if you do need a working knowledge of colloquial Italian just to order a cup of coffee.
The explanation is simple. Increasing competition is forcing restaurants to adopt-attention grabbing guises, hoping to attract ‘millennials’ who couldn’t possibly eat anything which didn’t have its own Tumblr. And as rents in London are so high, restaurants will do anything to get customers through the door - even if that means forcing them to quaff their drinks from water pistols or delivering their bill by drone.
It’s as if we’re so utterly disenchanted with the daily necessity of feeding ourselves that we’ve become hooked on increasingly wild and fanciful mealtime distortions, until eventually, like a drug addict continuously upping his dose, we’ll only be satisfied when served a platter of avocado-flavour cronuts by waiting staff who speak solely in Wes Anderson quotes.
This new wave of baffling accoutrements is turning restaurants into the latest arena of the entertainment industry. Eating has never been morally or medicinally neutral, but now the downright absurdity of some diners is enough to provoke an existential crisis. Perhaps it’s inevitable. Perhaps the future of eating simply has to entail wi-fi enabled polenta.
Of course, in a few months this may well have been proven nonsense. By that time, The Bunyadi’s unique concept might have swept the city by storm, prompting restaurants to frantically erect hasty barriers marking their dedicated naked spaces. The very idea of sitting down to dinner in, say, a pair of jeans and a jumper will suddenly seem quaint and old fashioned, like saying ‘Cheerio!’ or posting a handwritten letter. And we’ll all be sitting there, naked, like the Emperor in his new clothes, blinded by our own cleverness.