About 36 million people live in Tokyo and its neighboring cities. Most restaurants well known to foreigners are heavily crowded. Therefore, when I dine out in Tokyo, I have to wait for a table for a decent amount of time. The fact that many local people are waiting for their tables relieves my concern that I might have chosen a wrong restaurant. Although crowdedness plays a role as social proof when I “choose” a restaurant, I think I may enjoy dish more if I have a breathing room or enough empty space inside when I “experience” a restaurant.
My thought was supported when I had a lunch at a restaurant run by D&Department in Tokyo. D&Department project is a store-style activist proposed by Nagaoka Kenmei, a Japanese designer, in 2000, with a theme of a “long-life design.” It introduces design products for our daily lives such as eating, drinking, publishing and traveling. It aims to spread all over the country the products excavated in local regions. Therefore, the design products introduced by D&Department are the durable items that should be used for a long time and regional items that each specific region of Japan uniquely identifies. Therefore, serving local, authentic dish at a restaurant made sense to me.
Going beyond design items and local dish, this restaurant provided sufficient empty space to each guest, which was rare in Tokyo. This restaurant limited the number of guests entering the space. Therefore, people focused on their own dish inside while a huge crowd of people waited for their tables outside. This space was quiet and well organized and guests were not visually distracted.
Do we like crowdedness or emptiness at restaurants? Marketing scientists have studied this issue. Some argue that crowdedness plays a role as a social proof while others argue that emptiness signals social class. We may like crowdedness when buying mass products or visiting casual restaurants, whereas we pursue emptiness when searching for luxury goods or dining out at Michelin starred restaurants.
Thomas Clayton O’Guinn, Robin J. Tanner, Ahreum Maeng; Turning to Space: Social Density, Social Class, and the Value of Things in Stores, Journal of Consumer Research, Volume 42, Issue 2, 1 August 2015, Pages 196–213, https://doi.org/10.1093/jcr/ucv010
Abstract: This article is about social space and material objects for sale within that space. We draw primarily on Goffman’s (1971) concepts of use space and possession territories to predict that as the social density of a given space increases, inferences of the subjective social class and income of people in that space fall. Eight studies confirm that this is indeed the case, with the result holding even for stick figures, thus controlling for typical visual indicators of social class such as clothing or jewelry. Furthermore, these social class inferences mediate a relationship between social density and product valuation, with individuals assessing both higher prices and a greater willingness to pay for products presented in less crowded contexts. This effect of inferred class on product valuation is explained by status-motivated individuals’ desire to associate with higher-status people. To the best of our knowledge, this research is the first to reveal the link between social density, status inferences, and object valuations. As such, it makes a novel contribution to what has come to be known in sociology as the topological turn: a renewed focus on social space.