In his book, Bowling Alone, Robert Putman reveals that there’s been a 33 percent decrease in families eating together over the last three decades. And more than half of those families are watching television as they eat together. Over the same period there’s been a 45 percent decline in entertaining friends. Growing up I would ask each Sunday, “Who’s coming for dinner today?” Not whether but who, because I knew my parents always would have invited someone. “In the typical American household, the average number of dinners eaten together is three per week, with the average length of dinner being 20 minutes.” Many homes no longer even have a dining room. We protect ourselves from outsiders, but our security systems and garden gates are our prisons, cutting us off from community. Instead we get our community vicariously through soap operas. Friends is a television program or a Facebook number, not people with whom we eat and laugh and cry.
Instead we’ve commercialized hospitality. In his history of Starbucks, Taylor Clark argues that the secret of Starbucks’s success is not in its coffee, but “the pull of the coffeehouse as a place.” When sociologist Roy Oldenburg coined the term “third place” to describe a neutral gathering spot that’s neither home or work, “the company,” Clark writes, “now had its philanthropic rallying cry: it wasn’t a coffee company, but a third place bringing people together through the social glue of coffee.” Starbucks’s research showed that people wanted “a cozy social atmosphere above all else. . . . For those seeking a refuge from the world, the cup of coffee they bought was really just the price of admission to partake of the coffeehouse scene.” Starbucks is selling us hospitality.
- Tim Chester, A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community, and Mission around the Table, 46, 47