Here’s a kitchen confession I think it’s time to make. Before lockdown last year I had never used a food delivery app. Not even once.
I was so clueless that when I saw the TV adverts with all the different bags of Chinese, Indian and Italian food being delivered, I genuinely thought you could order them all at once and they would be brought together. I know, right?
Fast forward a year of getting heartily bored of my own cooking and I am, if not quite fluent in JustEat, at least capable of finding my way round an online menu.
Like in prison or boarding school, staying home to save lives made eating the focus of every day. Much has already been written about the damnable curse of family lunches; a lovely, leisurely highlight if you’re renting a villa on Sardinia and browsing the morning catch on the village jetty. Soul-sapping, when you’re not. Is there anyone in the land whose breath does not reek of supermarket hummus?
How many evenings have we tucked into tuna-pasta bake (again? Just eat it or I swear, I’ll…) and fantasising, like starveling urchins in Mr Bumble’s orphanage, what we would like to eat when we were freed from Covid captivity.
For a long while it could be summed up by “something nicer, somewhere nicer, with nicer people,” but now that liberty is looming, is it so very wrong to want to reserve an actual table in an actual restaurant, with snowy napiery and (steady now) a sommelier?
Of course it’s not wrong – it’s entirely natural. Unfortunately bagging a booking is the culinary equivalent of that David Attenborough clip of the baby iguana being frantically pursued by dozen of racer snakes. Equally natural.
Can it really be true that Rick Stein’s restaurants have been trying to juggle 30,000 bookings? Yes it can.
The Birmingham restaurant, Craft, started to take bookings on 24 February just after the April easing was flagged up; no fewer than 147 groups – 601 people – reserved seats within 20 minutes.
Beer gardens everywhere are sold out for months. A fortnight ago, One Eight Six, a Manchester cocktail bar and lounge, revealed it was fully booked for 10 consecutive weekends “at least” from May, despite not advertising.
It’s easy to blame Millennials and Generation Zers. So let’s do that. In fairness they are a terrifyingly organised bunch. In unfairness my generation are spent husks after rustling up all those flaming lunches for a year. No wonder we’re lagging woefully behind.
Booking anxiety is the new FOMO (fear of missing out), worse because it’s not all in our heads. We really are missing out yet too paralysed to do anything apart from moan about it. Endlessly.
In my case I can’t imagine how I’ll ever catch up now that every outdoor space has been bagsied for May and every indoor table in June. But necessity is the mother of invention.
Getting ready to go out is half the fun, so maybe I’ll just have to invest in better napkins and impose a fancy schmancy dress code. Then, when all the other slow coaches turn up, we can clink glasses as we wait for six different Deliveroo orders to arrive.