Americans enjoy watching TV. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans aged 15 and older spend about half of their leisure time watching TV—an average of 2.8 hours a day.
But when was it decided, seemingly en masse that we are incapable of eating a meal at a restaurant without a television looming in the background?
Did I miss the announcement of some scientific discovery that the glowing light of a television aids digestive health?
At first, I thought it was just a bar thing. A lot of people like to drink alcohol and watch sports in groups. It’s easy to see why bars have televisions: to show sports and entice fans to spend their money there.
It makes perfect sense for some bars to show broadcasts of men throwing balls around because it’s what their clientele wants. Such bars even have their own special name: They’re called sports bars.
But for some strange reason, TVs are now common in all bars, in fancy bars and even in proper restaurants.
On Valentine’s Day, my boyfriend and I went for a nice dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant. The lights were dim, live music was playing and we scooped up our food with spongy bread instead of using silverware. The scene would have been perfect, except for the TV hanging above the bar, rudely throwing its obnoxious light everywhere.
I didn’t want to watch television; I wanted to enjoy my food. But no matter how interested in the conversation I was, my brain demanded I turn my attention to making sense of the bright, flashing thing hovering above my date’s right shoulder.
Gone are the days when one could concentrate on their food and company without reflexively glancing at a muted television tuned to a cable news channel.
Ambience and atmosphere have been deemed less important than having something to look at while your mouth is full. Wolf Blitzer’s snow-white beard has become the source of the modern Midwestern restaurant’s mood lighting.
Perhaps a secret society of restaurant illuminati has been eavesdropping on our dinner conversations for years and decided they better install TVs to entertain us. Judging by the near-ubiquity of televisions in restaurants, there must be some explanation—possibly even some sort of sinister conspiracy.
We might be tempted to say restaurant owners are simply giving their customers what they want by installing TVs that can be seen from every angle. But I find this explanation hard to swallow. Who are these customers and why don’t they just order take-out?
By catering to the people who actually want to glance at a subtitled episode of “Frasier” while they eat, restaurant owners are essentially ignoring the preferences of those of us who like to take a break from TV every now and then, and who become nauseated by the mere sight of Kelsey Grammar.