A Semi-Earnest Guide to Dining Ironically
In a wave of irony, it is O.K. to do things one otherwise wouldn't. Right? Because you're being ironic. Meet the newest foodie trend of ironic dining, as inspired by Pete Wells' review of Guy Fieri's restaurant, and find out how to dine ironically for yourself!
Ah, irony. Ah, Guy Fieri. Ah, Pete Wells' New York Times review of Guy Fieri's Times Square restaurant, a (yes, hilarious) send-up that launched thousands of shares and numerous follow-up stories and even, we think, got some people who wouldn't have otherwise to dine at Guy Fieri's Times Square restaurant. This is all because, in a wave of irony, it is O.K. to do things one otherwise wouldn't. Right? Because you're being ironic.
That weird twist of irony (and irony is inherently a twist, yes?) is, I suspect, a large part of the inspiration for Christy Wampole's much discussed anti-irony screed in the New York Times: What we like and what we dislike is sacrificed for the greater enjoyment of being ironic, and she believes, I think, that that is a bad thing. But regardless of how you feel, one cannot stop irony; in fact, by censuring irony one can only hope to further heighten the ardor of those who use it more frequently than that spork with which they dine on fro-yo topped with sarcasm. And speaking of irony and food ... in recent Bloomberg Businessweek piece, writer Claire Suddath returns to Fieri and, in particular, his "Ironic Dining Mecca," thereby taking this conversation about food from simple restaurant descriptors of "good" or "bad" or even "tasty" or "subpar" into existential territory. Wells' review, and Fieri's style, are attracting not the Midwestern tourists and confused Europeans you might stereotype as Times Square diners, but instead, locals! As she explains, "Tourists overwhelmingly populate the neighborhood’s hundreds of franchise restaurants—places most locals avoid like an overly commercialized, mass-marketed plague. But surprisingly, they’ve been testing Fieri’s greasy restaurant to see just how bad it is." The restaurant is doing "very well" and people are spending a lot of money for their own "ironic dining" experiences. Everyone wants one, after all, given human psychology. If it's terrible, you win, and if it's good, you can be ironic about that, too. Everyone's doing it! So how can you? A few tips.
Choose the Establishment Wisely. Location, location, location. Ironic dining does not come easily to those who simply want to go for a quick, delicious, affordable bite. You must think! You must plan. That great neighborhood joint down the block where they know your name and regular order may seem an ideal choice, but how are you going to make that ironic? It's going to be difficult, unless you don an eye patch or go with someone you despise and pretend to be best friends or order what you hate to be sarcastic in a way that the waiter will never understand. The only person who loses when you choose wrong is you. Note: The easiest way to dine ironically is to pick a place where you expect the food to be bad, and not sad-going-to-shut-down bad but hilariously making-money-anyway bad, BIG BAND bad, and go blithely, anyway. And the easiest places of all to mock, of course, particularly among East Coast food snobby types, are the places that are chains, that exist in far greater numbers outside the confines of our urban habitues (but slowly are encroaching upon those), the places that one finds in malls, the places presumed to sell food that is Extremely Mainstream. You know what these places are.
Consider Your Costume. A few choices here. You can dress the way you think people dress when dining at this establishment, with nary a smirk to show the truth, which is that you are engaging in a piece of performance art, wearing nothing that is actually your own or that you would ever choose to own (see ya in 20 years, though). Or, you dress in the way you usually dress, the uniform of your time, wearing your clothing as irony, though it's hard to see where one begins and the other ends (examples: fedora, skinny jeans, a well-oiled mustache, a "reporter's notebook," black-framed glasses). There is a third option here, which is to dress in a way in which you never dress and no one else does, really, or only does rarely. Like, as a clown. Or in one of those "avant-garde" pieces made on Project Runway. Or with accessories: Wear a banana clip, wear a scrunchie, or tie your shirt in a midriff-revealing knot. Wear a cross if you're not even the slightest bit religious and watch it break off into your chicken fingers as you attempt to cut them. Hell is so ironic.
Have Preconceived Opinions. The entire point here is that you should be smug. So, be smug! Whatever it is you think about this place, this horrid Appletinibeeblebee's, this Bloomin' Onion House of Pancakes, this TGI of Friday-Friday-Gotta-Get-Down-on-Friday, think it long and hard (don't let anyone see you think, though, nay, instead, feign a mask of sheer ennui all the while you sit, order, chat, and eat). Whatever you taste, do not let your opinion change. You're not a food critic, you're dining ironically.
Capture the Moment Forever with Photography! You simply must take a photo of this experience! Get the waiter or hostess or person milling around outside passing out free chicken-little bites to pose in it with you. Thumbs up, please. Not like you mean it, but they don't know that.
Order Appropriately. Don't order something you're going to like, silly goose. Order something with a ridiculous name (I'll have the Gus Van Santwich, please; and yes, another round of Saturday Night and I Ain't Got Nobodies, these are delicious! Bring five straws). Again, do not smirk. Ironic dining relies on a face of steel, regardless of how many plastic fishes that talk are hung up in the bathroom. If you actually do like what you've ordered, shrug and be cool, because that's just the dish trying to out-maneuver you. If you hate it, well, that's exactly what you came for.
Make Paying the Check Ironic, Too. The only way to do this right is to leave a giant tip. Overlarge, really, at least 20 percent, but ideally more, because you're being ironic. Anything under 20 is on-the-nose, and that's not your style.
Pretend It's Opposite Day. When in doubt, this is a handy guide. Whatever you feel, do the opposite. When in doubt about what you feel, imitate the scene in Breathless in which the main male character, played by Jean-Paul Belmondo, stares at himself in the mirror and offers up an open mouth, a smile, and a frown. You are being French New Wave, which is basically like being a close, personal friend of Irony.
Guard Your Emotions Carefully. Hide them so deep you don't even know how you feel, and let everything be, essentially a joke, even if it's one you're not even sure is funny anymore. Laugh on, nonetheless, or maybe cry, but never let 'em see you sweat, unless it's really cold outside, in which case, again: Irony.
Never Surrender to Deliciousness. This is just a good rule of thumb for life in general. Or is it? Even if we did know, we'll never tell.