The Deliberate Luxury of Dinner Out

As food prices in Canada dramatically rise, the simple act of going out for dinner seems to be an indulgence fewer and fewer can enjoy.

June 14, 2024 | | Headwaters Nest

When the kids are complaining there is nothing to eat, and the sizzling summer days make the kitchen too hot even to enter, heading out for a meal at a restaurant can be just the trick. 

The snap decision to go out for dinner feels like a mini-celebration. There are multiple joys in not having to decide what to cook, ensure you have the ingredients, run to the store if not (forgetting your reusable shopping bags, again), do the cooking itself, then get everyone on board and to the table with hands clean, the baby clicked into the high chair without pinching fingers, and prayers said by those who say them … only to be exasperated by grumbling about the evening’s menu and food pushed peevishly around the plate, or worse, thrown from the height of said high chair, landing who knows where. 

No need for any of that! Off everyone goes to get in the car, unless you are lucky enough to walk to a neighbourhood joint. All in attendance have different opinions about where to go, but eventually a choice is made. Here goes…

Arriving at a family restaurant with little ones in tow is undeniably a treat, but not without some anxieties of its own. The interminable waiting for a table makes for space-time continuum equations you didn’t expect for such a simple outing. Delicious smells waft your way, but you wonder what takes so long when you can see empty tables and menus stacked and waiting.

dining out with family
Illustration by Shelagh Armstrong

Finally your host arrives and you make your way to your spot. If you’re at the right kind of joint, lucky kids get a small pack of crayons, a puzzle book or table game. Usually the kids get their own menu, with price points that don’t make the paying adult cringe, knowing half will go to the scraps bin. Some restaurants know how to serve smiles and keep the kids happy with a fancy drink, a little bit of bread or chips and some extra attention. It’s a blessing when you land in a welcoming environment, and your shoulders can drop an inch as you happily sip on your fizzy water or ice-cold beer. What a pleasure to have a team look after you, if only for an hour or two.

Some kids are naturals. They have the special chromosome baked in, seemingly born with manners that make them a delight to take out. They’re at ease not only in the din of a family-style restaurant, but with the savoir faire of more formal dining establishments. They are welcomed at swanky and modern Greystones, they have a favourite pizza at the Bluebird, go to lovely Mrs. Mitchell’s for a summer evening birthday party, or The Globe for brunch with family friends. They’ve done the circuit!

Nevertheless, the indulgence of even a modest dinner out seems to be a rapidly retreating pleasure. As food prices dramatically rise in Canada, concerns about how to feed our families are growing. Even at home, shrinkflation makes it harder to feed multiple mouths, and those who don’t have the time or ability to cook from scratch (which should be a more affordable option) find their dollar doesn’t go as far when it comes to even simple home meals or stocking the staples. 

As I write this, a month-long boycott of Loblaw-owned stores has begun in response to the news that Canada’s largest grocer reported nearly a 10 per cent increase in profits over its last quarter. Reddit groups that info share on social issues are encouraging the more than 70,000 members of the subreddit “Loblaws is out of control” to lobby the federal government to establish price caps on essential items and to petition for antitrust laws that address price fixing, monopolization and collusion, and that promote pricing transparency. 

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  • The lovely memories of special meals, joyous sounds of clinking glasses and the percussion of knives and forks over laden tables during summer months, followed by leftovers from barbecue dinners, are so special to me. And equally I love that my son, Adrian, husband, Derrick, and I have engrained memories from over the years of going out for easy dinners. Our Orangeville faves were Angel’s Diner and Soulyve, where Chef Phil specially prepared a roti of just chicken and rice for Adrian when he was little. We’ve enjoyed the best local burgers and picked up pizza to go when the craving hit.

    Adrian recently completed his second year of college and we celebrated with a steak dinner in Brampton. It was delicious and made for a special few hours together. As I looked at the prices on the menu and Derrick paid the total, I silently reminded myself that we are the lucky ones. We have food and we have choices. But for us too, dinner out is becoming more of a milestone event than an impromptu treat. And I reflect that with growing financial disparity, many find even such occasional celebrations out of reach. 

    Those thoughts lead me into a complexity of political musings, so I take a minute to shake them off for another time, and return my attention to the job at hand – chopping up peppers and onions to grill and add to our fish tacos tonight. Dinner, per usual, is at home. 


    Social Justice Club for youth

    Youth aged 7 to 14 who are looking for an opportunity to discuss and understand social change and become engaged citizens now have a place to land. The Social Justice Club is up and running at the Orangeville Public Library. The group is led by local volunteer Farzaneh Peterson, who will help youth become better citizens by understanding our world through the lens of empathy, social responsibility and lived experiences. Registration is required, and weekly meeting details are on the website.

    Green leaders in the making

    Credit Valley Conservation invites high school students age 14-plus to take part in Frontline, a volunteer environmental leadership program. Participants take part in workshops once a month from September to May, commit to environmental action in the community and lead outreach activities. The program focuses on different themes from year to year to support laddering up leadership skills. Along with connecting youth to nature, the work counts toward their required volunteer hours.

    Sweet opportunity

    Are you up for a sweet challenge? Amateur bakers can enter the Best Cupcake Contest hosted by Alliston’s Gibson Centre during their 15th annual Taste of the Town. Could this be a contest for you and your up-and-coming chef? Drop off your cupcakes for a chance to win bragging rights and recognition. Judging takes place on June 20, with your tiny cake drop-off required between 10 a.m. and noon.

    Museum adventures

    Visit the charming and wide-open spaces of the Museum of Dufferin this summer. Haven’t been before? It’s a short drive to the corner of Highway 89 and Airport Road, where you’ll see the majestic, purpose-built barn and silo that house the museum and await your arrival. Programming and fun run constantly for the whole family, including summer day camps for kids aged 7 to 12. Each camp has a theme, and the tantalizing topics include archeology, CSI techniques, art mania and superhero science. For toddlers, age 1 to 4, there’s MoD-Tots: Summer Fun, featuring tot-friendly crafts and sensory activities for a reasonable $7 fee per hour-long session. Visit the website to register.

    About the Author More by Bethany Lee

    Bethany Lee is a freelance writer who lives in Mono.

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