Sunday, August 30, 2009

Restaurant Food in the Smoke-Free Era

If you’ve noticed a gradual improvement in restaurant food over the last 10 or 20 years, one of the reasons is that fewer people are smoking.

It’s no secret that smoking kills people’s sense of taste. A moderate smoker can barely taste the difference between a hamburger and a hot dog. Back when most adults smoked, there wasn’t much incentive for a restaurant to provide food that was more sophisticated than that. Even nonsmokers sitting in the same restaurant with smokers wouldn’t be able to taste much detail in the food, so the emphasis was on making food look good — and in the pricier places, having a good story about the recipes on the menu.

There aren’t so many smokers left now, and most restaurants are smoke-free by law. That brings food more to the forefront in a restaurant. The food has to be good. If the tuna is a week old, the pasta salad is mostly mayonnaise, and there is no pumpkin in the pumpkin pie, people will notice, so restaurants are more careful about the way the food comes out. Some ingredients are more fresh, and recipes are scrutinized and tested, instead of merely being copied from one restaurant to another.