Design infuses so much of how we eat. Restaurants certainly know this, and we expect them to spend a lot of money on smart physical layout, use of space, and appropriate ambiance. Getting the design right is make or break for a restaurant. But what about at home?
Every eating experience contains design. Take this scenario:
You receive an invitation to someone's home. You know your host peripherally from work, but you haven't spent much time together and you don't know anything personal about her.
You look and see that you don't know any of the other people on the invite. Her wording doesn't suggest an opening to bring a "plus one" and you're single anyway.
She's an important contact. You want to get to know her better and perhaps collaborate with her in future. This relationship could be an important one. Do you go?
Dinner implies that there will be a single, central table with chairs around it. Cocktail implies that you will be standing with a glass in one hand and possibly a small plate in the other.
Which design stimulates more desire in you to attend?
I concede that it may be my introversion that makes me stressed out by the cocktail scenario. Send me to an unstructured networking mixer and I'll be the one hiding in the bathroom.
You, on the other hand, may just love bumping and connecting and have no fear of strangers. You may feel less inspired and more restless by the dinner party design. Certainly at a dinner you are more pinned down.
Whichever your preference, these two designs are quite different. And participants to each will have dramatically different experiences (good or bad).
"A leader these days needs to be a host," says writer and management consultant Margaret J. Wheatley. "One who convenes diversity; who convenes all viewpoints in creative processes where our mutual intelligence can come forth.”
The power of the table is that it constellates us. By design it says: You matter. Your role in this collective experience matters. Whether you're a big talker or a shy listener, we want you here.
I'm biased, I know. Given my proclivity for mill-around anxiety, when I'm the host, I simply must have a table. Be it for finger foods, full dinner, Mozzarella Focus Group, or just late-night, wine-accented, political discourse, I need everyone to have a place at the table.
Probably because I so desperately need one.