Restaurant Cultures in the States and Switzerland

I think restaurants in Switzerland tend to be the exact opposite of those in the States. Sure, there are similarities, like you are served food in both but the basic atmosphere is different.

In the States you go to a restaurant, especially a chain restaurant to eat. Just to eat. When you are finished you pay and leave. When you are there you usually get free refills and have plenty of ice water, also with refills. But, basically, when you have finished eating you pay and leave. That leaves room for the next customer to sit and eat.

In some restaurants or fast food chains, nothing is left to chance. From the interior choices of colors to the way the chairs are slanted everything is done for a purpose. Cool colors (blues and some greens) are known to suppress the appetite. So, if you want people to eat quickly go with warm colors, bright shades of red, yellow or orange. Those tend to raise blood pressure and heart rate which in turn, makes customers eat faster. That’s good if you have a restaurant and want a large turnover of customers. When I think of those colors I think of Wendy’s and McDonalds color schemes. Hmmm.

Swiss Chains?

In Switzerland there are very few restaurant chains. Some say it is because the Swiss value food as an art and it is an experience eating it. If it looks like I’ve been here a while, you’re right. I love trying regional and seasonal specialties which you won’t find at any chain. That’s not to say I don’t have good memories of fast food places. I do, but I don’t go anymore because they will never measure up to my memories, never.

A type of restaurant that I’ve never seen here is “all you can eat” places. The closest Switzerland comes to that is at a cafeteria. There, you pick the size plate you want to pay for and load it up. But even the Swiss are moderate when it comes to loading up their plates. Of course, “It all goes to the same place” as my grandfather said. But cramming more on your plate to get a better value doesn’t sit well with all Swiss. They like to say “Your eyes are eating with you” meaning it has to look good to really enjoy it.

Sometimes You Have to …

Once when a friend of my was visiting us, we went to Paris among other places. Right there, on the Champs-Èlysées was a McDonalds. In Paris there were so many other culinary goodies to try that I would have walked right by McDonalds. But my friend was getting tired of not being able to understand anything anywhere. Also eating strange food was starting to get to her. McDonalds looked like “home”, she knew what to expect there. Or at least thought she did.

So we went in and she bought a big Mac with fries and a Coke. She was even able to order it herself in English! As much as McDonalds would like you to believe a McDonalds is a McDonalds is a McDonalds is a McDonalds. It isn’t. My friend barely ate two French fries and one bite of her burger before she conceded it wasn’t the same.

Swiss Restaurants

It seems like restaurants in Switzerland don’t mind if you spend hours there. After all, every drink costs, there are no free refills. They will gladly put baskets of snacks, that also cost, on your table for you to consume. You can go to a restaurant with your friends, eat lunch and stay and play cards as long as you want. No one would look twice. Some restaurants even offer Bingo nights (called Lotto) in the Fall. That’s when everyone there plays Bingo to win prizes like gold, vacations or more often than not, ham or bread. Again, everything you consume while playing you pay for. Nothing is free.

Mixing American and Swiss

Once when Ben and some friends were travelling in the States they often stayed at camping sites. They would then take day trips to different places they wanted to see. On a particularly rainy day they decided not to go anywhere. They got in the car and went to lunch at a chain restaurant, Denny’s. After lunch they played Jass with the cards they had with them with round after round of free coffee refills. They thought it was great, I’m not so sure the waitress thought so.

When they came back to Switzerland they all thought that was such a good idea that the Swiss restaurants should adopt the free refills, too. Of course, refilling with the Swiss coffee. Right. That will never happen here – that’s how Swiss restaurants stay in Business.

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