Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Lifestyles of the Not-Quite-Rich-and-Famous

Athenios and I sometimes frequent the restaurant Fogo De Chao. It's one of those all-you-can-eat Brazilian steakhouses. They give you a coloured token where green side up means 'keep bringing me more succulent meat!' and red side up means 'now please bring a nurse specialing in patients at risk of coronary emergencies'.

The piece de resistance is always the feeling of self-loathing and extreme fullness at the end of the meal. It is, after all, the gastronomical equivalent of binge drinking.

What's funny though is that you often see a certain clientele at these places that seems at odds with the description above. Namely, slightly thugged-out guys, often somewhat dressed up, on dates with their girlfriends (who are always in cocktail dresses). The beverage of choice tends to be name brand champagne, consistent with the conspicuous consumption vibe that they give off.

And all this seemed odd to me, because it's a place that, notwithstanding it's expensive price, I'd be rather embarrassed to bring a girl, certainly for a one-on-one date.

I rarely see these kinds of couples at the other nice restaurants I go to. So what's the story? Obviously they're trying to impress their date with a fancy meal, but why this place?

My guess is that Fogo De Chao is essentially the poor person's idea of how rich people would eat. Start with an item at the expensive end of restauarnt menus, a steak. Then jack up the price and quallity. And finally, consume it in enormous quantities, since that's clearly how the wealthy live.

Of course, the wealthy distinguish themselves by their thinness and their meager consumption of food. If they are going to eat a lot, it has to be spread out across lots of tiny courses and given a fancy name like 'degustation'. In addition, it has to be healthy, and made from fresh ingredients. Eating a meal comprised entirely of meat would seem horribly gauche. You might be able to sell it in other contexts as some spin on the Atkins diet, but that's a harder claim at the all-you-can-eat restaurant.

In other words, other than the price and quality of the meat itself, this is entirely a low-brow eating experience. The wealthy are more likely to be eating a salad at the raw food restaurant, or checking out the Michelin recommendations in their city.

It might seem, then, that the signalling of these guys would be a failure, since no rich person is going to be impressed by this kind of consumption. Indeed, it seems possible (and likely) that many of the people in question aren't aware of how high class people would perceive it. But realistically, they aren't actually signaling to these people - the signaling is all done for the girl. And if she shares the same conceptions of what wealth looks like, it will probably be successful.

Still, it's a funny business model alright - the high-brow go there to feel low-brow by their huge consumption, and the low-brow go there to feel high-brow by how much they're spending

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