Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung share an intimate moment at a restaurant in Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love. (Courtesy Criterion Collection)

If life were truly like a movie, we would all eat out at restaurants more. What better place to develop the main character of your story?

Filmmakers understand that a restaurant is a choice; an expression. Carrie Bradshaw would forego dinner and empty out her wallet for the September issue of Vogue because it “fed her more,” yet you can’t watch a single episode of Sex and the City without seeing her at a café or bar.

Quentin Tarantino famously uses restaurants to introduce his characters by placing them in a setting the audience can immediately familiarize themselves with like a diner. In the Mood for Love, a devastating portrayal of yearning and desire, gives two star-crossed lovers residing in the same building one place where they can disguise themselves in plain sight: a restaurant.

For the last decade, like everyone else in this city, I have been mesmerized by how restaurants have become even more of a “scene” place to be. Distracted by the grandeur and scale of the space, I often find myself mentally calculating the countless hours and dollars that must’ve been spent so that guests can walk in and exude what’s now commonly referred to as “main character energy.”

Want to travel back in time to a 1920’s boxing lounge? Go to Marcel.

Craving lunch in Copenhagen without the airfare? Try Le Bon Nosh.

Curious about what it would feel like to be in Alice in Wonderland? Make a visit to The Garden Room.

Even Little Trouble opened its doors with the tagline “what if Blade Runner were a bar.” It seems as though restaurants have become less about rolling out the white table cloth and showboat-y service, and more about transporting guests into alternate realities.

Restaurants let us be the writer, director, and protagonist all at once. They present curated moments where we get to control everything from what we eat and drink to the people we surround ourselves with, down to selecting a seat with the most flattering light.

I once went on a second date where the guy insisted that we sit at the corner of the bar at Lyla Lila where it curves because it guaranteed the best view of the bar, and limited any distractions from the main dining room.

At the time, I admired how particular he was in planning our date, but looking back, I see that I was just a supporting character in his evening. He had cast me because it was something he had thought about doing with someone (maybe anyone) for quite some time. I don’t even blame him for it, restaurants—especially ones like Lyla Lila—are designed to beguile and seduce you. Whether it’s for breaking the bank on the bill or overindulging on a few too many, you should feel a little guilty when you leave.

(There was no third date.)

I enjoy this relationship between restaurants and cinema because thoughtful interior design and dining room theatrics give us what reality never will—an escape. A dozen oysters and a martini at Kimball House is a fantasy compared to a week full of delivery apps, fifteen-dollar salads, and TV dinners. And while some people might not care about where their next meal comes from, a lot of us require a diversion from the banality of modern life.

Dining out just lets us kill a few birds with one stone. You might not ever try a Cosmopolitan in your life, but you would do it to put yourself in Carrie Bradshaw’s Manolos. 

This story first appeared in Side Dish by Rough Draft, a weekly newsletter about food and dining. Subscribe here.

Sara Delgado

Sara Delgado is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.