By November 24, 2009 2 Comments Read More →

Food for Thought, or Restaurant in Peace

One of my groups goes out to eat after each meeting. We have to vacate our library meeting room by 9 p.m. It makes for a late meal, but by continuing at the restaurant, we turn a rushed evening into a leisurely event. This practice has three major side benefits. First, if off-topic conversations start during the meeting, it’s easy to ask folks to defer them until later at the restaurant. Second, the restaurant gives spouses and friends who don’t participate in the main group or readers who are running late a way to join in the fun. Most important, the meal adds a little celebration to the end of each meeting. It’s made us closer as a group and keeps my readers coming back every month without fail.

We’re regulars at a local Mexican restaurant, which we enjoyed until recently, but several members have suggested that a change might be welcome. The challenge is that there aren’t many restaurants open late in Williamsburg, particularly near the library where our group meets. We’re a big group, sometimes bringing 20 people to dinner, so we need a place that can handle a big party late. A new possibility finally presented itself, and I booked a table at an Italian restaurant another mile down the road.

Whoops! After proposing the change to the group, a couple of dissenters piped up. We talked it over, put the switch to a vote, and I had to eat crow, call the Italian place, and cancel my reservation. Issues that arose during my group’s discussion are relevant to other groups as well:

  • Price is critical. Particularly in tough times like these, the fact that the new restaurant averaged $4 more for dinner was enough to make several group members vote it down, even though they were ready for a change of food.
  • Location is probably the next most critical element. That extra mile was the deciding point for a couple of my readers.
  • Noise is another key factor. We’re often the only customers at the Mexican place by the time we arrive, and we like it that way. They don’t have loud music or televisions. They seat us quickly and we get the full attention of the wait staff. We’re done with formal book discussion by the time we arrive at our restaurant, but we still want to be able to hear each other. For groups that hold the entire meeting at the restaurant, noise levels are even more crucial. Consider looking for a place with an infrequently used private room.
  • A varied, flexible menu choice is a big plus. Our group loves the free chips and salsa at the Mexican place. But your readers will order at different levels, so look for places that have appetizers, main courses, and desserts, as well as a variety of beverage options.
  • If your group will discuss the book at the restaurant, look for splatter-free food that will keep hands clean and the number of side plates under control. If the book involves food, by all means find a restaurant with matching cuisine.
  • Other concerns: willingness to split the check, easy parking, food allergies, smoking policies, climate control, and the comfort and arrangeability of seating.
  • Make your initial choice of venues carefully. Some folks are creatures of habit, and once a pattern is set, such readers will be reluctant to break it. And it does make group management easier if the site remains consistent. So give your choice care: It might be more binding than you think.
  • Whatever choice you make, make it in advance. Your readers will want to prepare their schedules and appetites accordingly. Book a reservation if possible.

Bon Appetit! Food can make your book group a festive occasion, but think carefully about your choice. It’s a more complicated decision than which restaurant has the best food.

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

2 Comments on "Food for Thought, or Restaurant in Peace"

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  1. ckubala@columbiactlibrary.org' CarolK says:

    If I’m ever in Williamsburg on book group night, may I join you? What an interesting way to wrap up a discussion!

  2. Neil Hollands says:

    Please do! It’s a speculative fiction book group, open to all comers at the James City County Library on the Third Tuesday of each month. Book group at 7, dinner at 9!

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