“I’d go with the Ewephoria. It’s under the ‘stoic’ category.” I scanned the menu for a description of “stoic.” It read “big, hard cheeses.” I peered over my glass of red wine from the Douro Valley as the attractive bartender flipped painstakingly perfect, wavy, grey-streaked hair out of his blue-grey eyes. I bet it is, I thought to myself.
The bartender at Tria, the Philadelphia wine and cheese bar, may have gotten the job based on merit alone. But placing attractive people at the front line of any business in the service industry isn’t just useful when it comes to female bartenders in nightclubs with barely-there outfits. The memory of an attractive person preparing your food or drink, no matter where it is, must stimulate some sort of pleasure center in your brain that keeps you going back. (It certainly keeps me going to a certain coffee truck between classes.)
In 2011, Eater NY published a list of the 15 New York restaurants with the hottest servers — male and female, of course, as if pointing out both somehow makes “adorable girls scooping ice cream” at Eataly less creepy. Included in the list is the quasi-famous Coffee Shop, long-rumored to exclusively hire struggling models as servers. It was soon followed by similar articles in Eater LA, Eater NOLA, and Eater San Francisco. Lisa Vanderpump, one of the more entrepreneurial Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, has recently capitalized on our fascination with being fed by good-looking people and birthed her own spinoff, Vanderpump Rules. The show revolves entirely around the premise of attractive restaurant staff members that routinely bed-hop with one another and then painstakingly attempt to conceal the ensuing drama from their “Vander-fabulous” boss. Recently, a Facebook status from a local Philly politico appeared in my news feed: “Getting bullshitted by two attractive twenty-something girls selling me FIOS at the door. For someone that has done door-to-door for years, I feel ashamed. Let’s hope I don’t get bamboozled out of house and home.” Hiring people who are easy on the eyes can generate PR out of thin air, convince even the most seasoned of BS-artists to switch ISPs for no reason, and make viewers glue their eyeballs to smut on a TV screen for endless, wasted hours.
Last year, Food Republic, Eater, and the Huffington Post published articles about a recent boom in “breastaurants,” sports bar-type establishments with scantily clad waitresses. Emerging national and regional chains, such as Twin Peaks, Tilted Kilt, Mugs ‘N Jugs in Florida, and Bone Daddy’s House of Smoke in Texas (which boasts “BBQ, Beer, and Daddy’s Girls.” Ew.) are cornering the breastaurant market and giving veteran Hooters a run for its money as the eatery with the most giggle-worthy name in America. Just six months ago, Hooters announced plans to revamp its image in an effort to update the 1980s, man-cave, beach-bar vibe and eradicate the stigma associated with dining there. Yet, despite the stated goal of attracting more female clientele to the infamous 430-location chain, the server uniforms will remain just as skimpy.
Of course, the human fascination with attractiveness is nothing new. We like to look at other people, and we even like to catch secret glances at our own reflections when we think we look good (I know I’m not the only person to ever check myself out discretely in a tinted window). However, I think the impact that this phenomenon has on dining out isn’t talked about enough. “Breastaurants” aside, even restaurants that don’t center their marketing strategies on hot servers seem to harvest their employees from a pool of good-looking twenty and thirty-somethings.
Dining out, like travel, is an escape from the regular and the mundane — after all, people don’t travel to experience something that they can do, anytime, down the street from their house. It therefore makes sense that we would also incorporate a desire to escape to a place with more enticing romantic prospects. Perhaps there is a similar cognitive process at work when dining out. The food is only a small portion of the price tag — the bulk of the premium is derived from “the experience.” Day in and day out, we prepare our own meals, or else have them presented to us by familiar people that we see all the time. Dining out is an opportunity to do something you can’t do at home and, more importantly, to have someone else do it for you. For a couple blissful hours, we get to spruce up and enjoy ourselves without having to do any work. And the attractive waiter or waitress dutifully at our beck and call is the icing on the cake.
Attractive people are used to selling all kinds of stuff. Every day, we are inundated with the message that buying a certain pair of jeans or cologne or car will make us more desirable. But one thing that supermodels don’t make me want to do is eat an indulgent meal. It seems counterintuitive that an industry based solely on the concept of culinary indulgence would dangle fit physiques in your face while simultaneously trying to sell you several courses of food — including dessert and booze. But somehow, it works. We feel important and sexy when we dine out, and we muster up the confidence to flash a smile at that good-looking guy or girl pouring our drink, the one who we wouldn’t have thought would give us a second look anywhere else.
As I downed the last drop of my Portuguese red and savored the final bite of Ewephoria, I stole one more glance at that perfect wavy hair and reminded myself that he only knows so much about cheese and wine because he works here, that he smiled at me because he had to, that the lighting is dim and the booze is flowing freely, and that the grass is probably greener from my side of the bar.