I grew up near New Brunswick, the college town that is home to four of Rutgers University’s campuses. And this past week, as I was standing on a street corner there, I thought about going into one of the popular bars in town. But as I stood there, I thought about how sad and awkward it would be for me to walk in there and dine alone.
I think my experience reflects some larger social trends that I’ve discussed here in the past. Dating has become a lot harder for people in my generation; due to changing goals and social realities, coupled with overwhelming access (via apps), people now find it harder to connect meaningfully. It’s even hard to find and maintain friends these days. Vice, drawing on research from the World Health Organization, notes that millions of men lose their friends in their twenties, which actually poses long-term risks to their mental and physical health.
To fix this, we need to make it permissible for people to randomly talk to each other at length. Recently, the only time I made meaningful conversation with a stranger was while trapped on a train for four hours. Thus, I’ve come to the realization that we need a new kind of restaurant because sharing a meal forces and deepens social interaction. I’d call this restaurant Wyrd (pronounced “weird”).
Wyrd, in Anglo-Saxon culture, refers to fate or personal destiny. Thematically, the term comes up in relation to the Fates or Norns, three immortal women who weave the tapestry of destiny which affects us all. A similar myth comes from China, that of the “red string of fate.”According to this myth, the gods tie an invisible red cord around the ankles of those that are destined to meet one another in a certain situation or help each other in a certain way.
The concept for the Wyrd restaurant is a play on the above mythos. I’m envisioning a somewhat exclusive place where people must reserve tables by signing up with Facebook. We use the sign-ups for a given day to sort people into affinity groups and then seat them together. You meet new people and no one dines alone. We might even provide a potential topic of discussion based on the affinity group, or offer a discount on their meal if they can figure out why we matched them. I think this concept gives a physical home to digital matchmaking, whether romantic or platonic. In fact, this idea was born out in lower fidelity by “Dinner with Seven Strangers” founded by Lexi Cotcamp; simply put, DW7S facilitated dinners between 8 strangers (1 host and 7 guests), connecting people who would have otherwise never met. The success of that initiative makes it clear that people want a forum in which they can meet others without undue fear or awkwardness.
To flesh the idea out a little more, I think Wyrd would need quality control and consistency (esp. if it’s meant to grow into a chain). In terms of food, I expect that tapas-style, shareable plates would be the way to go. As at many fine dining establishments, I’d assume a limited menu where the chefs exert a lot of creative license over globally-inspired dishes. With regard to decor, I think that an extension of the “thread of destiny” motif might be fun, just given the restaurant’s name. The adjectives that come to mind for the mood set by the decor and space design are intimate, curious, exploratory, open, and maybe a touch of whimsical.
Ultimately, I really hope that others think this is a cool idea. I’d love to set this up one day as a pop-up or physical restaurant. If someone else reads this and wants to beat me to the punch, just let me know: I’d really love to help!