It's Time to Say Goodbye to Flameless Candles
Nice. Real nice.
I'm not a designer. A glimpse inside my own home would reveal that while I may have amassed a collection of relatively nice things, they in no way work well together. It's as if a half dozen furniture catalogues were tossed into a blender and my living room was constructed from the resultant confetti. What's worse is I can't articulate exactly what is wrong or what will make the problem better.
The same is true of my knowledge of restaurant dining rooms. I can tell when a space works, and describe every detail for an article or review, but if you were to show me a bad design and ask me how to make it better I'd hide my eyes behind a menu. There is, however, one element of restaurant design I feel I can speak to with authority, and that is the use of organic lighting.
Candles were meant for restaurants. In groups, they carve romance from dimly lit corners and along bars and in hallways they punctuate darkness with flickering commas of light. The heat a candle provides is miniscule, and yet they provide great warmth, and the more candles that are used the more ambience they create. Candles are sexy and create a special mood. And at the least, one should be set ablaze on every restaurant table.
Restaurateurs agree. That's why they go to great lengths to keep that flickering light illuminating our faces and hopefully our smiles as we eat. Some have even resorted to shortcuts to make sure that glow never goes dim. They're called flameless candles and they're about as satisfying as sexless marriages, electric cars and low-sodium cooking.
Try to imagine the very first restaurant owner who filled a dining room with bleak electrics and thought, "This looks good." If you're having a hard time conjuring the image, it's because it likely never occurred. His thoughts may have included dollars saved per dinner service and time spent by servers replacing burned-down candles, but aesthetics and romance could not have been considered, because the fact is that flameless candles look like shit. They cheapen every table they sit on.
Not only do the candles look bad, they color everything they illuminate like iodine, though only when the room is dark enough to let them color anything because they're so pitiful and dim. Flameless candles are a shadow of the noble lights they were meant to replace. So, it's not hard to argue that every restaurant owner that's removed the flames from their candles is better off removing the candle completely. Get them out, donate them to the local theater club or toss them in the garbage bin.
The digital world is on pace to devour every last shred of or romance and wonder from our lives. Can't we at least cling to our candles? Fire is not alluring unless it can actually burn you, and diners should speak up and say as much. I hear electric coils have come a long way since the apartment stoves of old. How long do you think the kitchen staff would hang out if you took their flames away and replaced them with something that was equally chintzy?
Get the Dining Newsletter
The week's top local food news and events, plus interviews with chefs and restaurant owners, dining tips, and a peek at our print review.