Serving Kenly, Selma, Smithfield, Princeton & Pine Level since 1973

Restaurant landscape, customs have changed

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Change is inevitable, so when it comes to dining out in restaurants, the landscape in this area has changed drastically since the 1950s and early 1960s — sometimes for the better, sometimes not, but definitely different.

Let’s look at similarities and differences in eateries around Wilson where I grew up that could also apply to other towns of comparable size.

Dining out previously may have been more about what was not available than what was.

In the early years, we did not yet have fast-food chains like McDonald’s, Hardee’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Arby’s, KFC, Bojangles’, Chick-fil-A and several others that now exist.

Likewise, there were no medium-range chain restaurants such as Applebee’s, Denny’s, Golden Corral, Western Sizzlin, Hwy 55, Ruby Tuesday, Chili’s, Olive Garden, Cracker Barrel, K&W Cafeteria or Texas Steakhouse and Saloon.

Further, and this is almost unbelievable, we had no ethnic restaurants including Mexican, Chinese, Japanese and Italian and no official pizza-only restaurants, although some did serve pizza as a specialty item.

No restaurants now known as sports bars like O’Cool’s or Buffalo Wild Wings existed and no places dealt in making submarine sandwiches like Jersey Mike’s, Subway and Subs Plus.

Also, and this would have been unacceptable for many, we had no all-you-can-eat buffets where customers could belly up to the trough and unashamedly devour everything in front of them not tied down as if they were wild animals.

So, what was available?

Most restaurants were of the mom-and-pop or family-owned variety.

Just like now, barbecue was a popular dish at many places followed closely by hamburger or hot dog joints and restaurants specializing in seafood.

Godwin’s Barbecue operated downtown while Parker’s Barbecue, which opened at its current location in 1946, was going strong by the mid-1950s.

Dick’s Hot Dog Stand had opened in 1921 and was serving hot dogs in the 1950s just like now.

The Creamery Family Restaurant was popular as well and featured curbside service and hot dogs like today’s Sonic, another chain restaurant not here previously.

Others were Cliff’s Drive-In, Bruce’s Hot Dog Stand, Holly House, Five Points Luncheonette, Wilson Lunch, the snack bar at Starlite Drive-In Theater and lunch counters at the McClellan’s and Woolworth’s five-and-dime stores.

Eating out seemed more of big deal back then as most people actually bathed and/or put on nice clothes before going out to eat.

Also, in the old days, most customers dining out were not in a big hurry.

There were no take-out boxes for dragging home what you couldn’t finish in the restaurant, no senior discounts, no big-screen TVs playing above the tables where you ate and no servers (we called them waiters) who claimed they would be “taking care of you,” whatever that means, before taking your order.

The most noticeable difference between then and now was in the earlier years, friends or family members usually sat together at a booth or table and, believe it or not, spoke actual words and carried on conversations during the meal.

With the arrival of cellphones a couple of decades ago, all face-to-face communication at restaurants and practically everywhere else came to a screeching halt.

While dining at local restaurant last weekend, I watched from nearby as a mother, father and I assume their son of about 3 years old were seated on one side of a table while three teenage girls of varying ages sat on the other side.

The group ate in about 30 minutes or so,and during their entire time there I don’t think any one of them spoke a word to another member of the group — including the youngster, who played a game on his phone while the others scrolled and texted the whole time.

Yes, I do understand this is today’s norm.

It doesn’t really matter, but the only restaurants I recall seeing featured on-screen from the earlier era were the Chinese restaurant named Chop Suey Palace in the movie “A Christmas Story” featuring Chinese turkey and the Mayberry Diner on “The Andy Griffith Show” that featured “three Vienna sausages heavy on the puree, slice of bread with butter and a side of succotash for just 80 cents,” according to Deputy Barney Fife.

If the name of your favorite eating establishment was omitted from this column, please don’t call, email or tell me in person “Hey, you forgot about so-and-so.”

I didn’t forget — there just wasn’t enough space to list everyone.

Keith Barnes is a reporter for the Johnstonian News. Email him at kbarnes.jhn@wilsontimes.com.

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