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The best way to build new relationships and strengthen existing ones:
The Social Importance of Dining

Illustration: A couple enjoys a romantic evening at a neighborhood cafe.
So much happens around the dinner table ...

Since the dawn of mankind, countless cookouts, picnics, potlatches, pow-wows, luaus, barbecues, smorgasbords, and similar "dining-gathering-events" have been vital components of that social fabric which defines humanity, bringing a sense of continuity to our lives, while building and strengthening our families and communities.

Every day, in a wide variety of work-related "social dining events" in the business realm, deals are made, contracts are signed, social alliances are created and strengthened, disputes are resolved, and projects are finalized — at events such as office parties, trade show banquets, company picnics, powerlunches, etc. Seems like most of us actually prefer to do business that way whenever possible.

After all, we each have to eat anyway. And for most of us, the social activity of sharing a meal with family, friends, business associates, classmates, co-workers, neighbors or new acquaintances is certainly more pleasant than solitary dining options (such as choking down burgers while riding in the stench of rush-hour traffic; or sitting in solitude in front of the TV with a microwaved "instant dinner").

Although our lifestyles and dining preferences may vary somewhat from one human to another, one basic fact applies to almost all of us, regardless of any one individual's "race, color, creed, age, sex, national origin, income, disability" or any of the other labels used by sociologists and social anthropologists to arbitrarily define, divide and dissect humanity:

Most of us enjoy gathering together and dining with other people whenever possible.

And for many people these days, whether dining at home with family, or in a public restaurant where we have the opportunity to meet interesting strangers, the dinner table is one of the few places left where we might actually get to spend a little "quality time" socializing with our fellow humans in a relatively relaxed and generally pleasurable environment.

And such "quality time" is extremely important for most of us, whether that importance is perceived consciously or subconsciously, whether or not we like to admit it, and whether or not we have ever thought of our "dining time" as "quality time" before.

People with disabilities dine out (or order delivered meals) far more often than average

Shortly after the passage of the ADA, we asked people with disabilities in a series of surveys and questionnaires to identify everyday activities where they had personally encountered barriers; and also asked them to rank which activities would be most important for them if such activities could be accomplished in a barrier-free venue.

Overwhelmingly, the top priority of survey respondents was "dining out with friends or family." Similar responses have been obtained in numerous other surveys, both in the U.S. and in other industrialized nations where similar surveys were given.

A recent Travel, Dining, and Hospitality study by Harris Interactive showed that disabled Americans are spending more than $40 Billion annually dining out. Harris reported that "in a typical week, 53% [of disabled adults] ate at least once at a 'fast-food' restaurant, 36% at a 'casual dining' restaurant, and 35% at a more formal establishment."

In the recent Harris Survey, 71% of disabled adults reported dining out at least once a
week. Since people with disabilities are less likely to cook at home than people without disabilities, many disabled adults reported dining out as frequently as SEVEN times a week.

(Home-delivered food items ordered by phone and/or online by disabled Americans were not included in the Harris study, as such purchases didn't fit Harris's definition of "dining out" for the purposes of that study. However, other studies have shown a steady increase in ordering out for home-delivered meals or snacks by most segments of the U.S. population. While there are a great number of theories regarding reasons for such increase, the general consensus seems to be that the primary driving factor is the increasing complexity of today's lifestyles.)

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