- The Washington Times - Monday, November 29, 2004

It may sound naughty, but taking a date to bed is now an epicurean affair. Dinner in bed is the latest fad at some of the most fashionable dining spots.

A number of restaurants nationwide are trading in their traditional tables and chairs to provide dinners in the sack, fostering a trend that allows customers to enjoy meals as the Romans once did in the first century A.D.

B.E.D. — a high-end eatery started in 1999 in Miami Beach, Fla. — stands for “Beverage, Entertainment, and Dining,” and serves food to customers on a communal tray, placed in the middle of a king-size bed that seats eight to 10, allowing guests to either lean forward to eat — on their left elbow like the Romans — or lean back, against a cascade of pillows surrounding the mattress.

The table-and-chair dining experience often can be stiff and formal, said Dirk Van Stockum, co-owner of B.E.D. Miami Beach, which is opening a location in New York this month.

“This is a very relaxed way of dining,” Mr. Van Stockum said. “I think there’s a certain adventure to it, like breaking some sort of convention that says, ‘Don’t eat in bed.’”

Bed dining is a new idea that is actually very old. The ancient Romans’ dining room — known as a “triclinium” — held an arrangement of three couches around a square table, and in later years, horseshoe-shaped couches with a round table. Romans reclined on these couches, and were served by slaves while enjoying music, poetry, wine and endless delicacies.

This style of dining was considered a mark of refinement and good taste, said Keith Bradley, former professor of Greek and Roman studies at the University of Victoria in British Columbia.

“The Romans’ style of dining was supposed to be relaxed, not formal. It was to promote a time for stimulating, intellectual discussion, and was generally a mark of good standing in society,” said Mr. Bradley, author of several books on life in ancient Rome.

Such ancient luxury commands a handsome price at B.E.D., where appetizers start at $12, and main dishes in the $30 range. Subtract the unusual seating arrangement and multicolored mood lighting, and B.E.D.’s dining atmosphere — with its contemporary French cuisine and live music — isn’t really gimmicky.

Similar restaurants are popping up all over the globe — in Amsterdam, Rome and Bangkok — and in New York, including the establishments Ono and Duvet.

In addition to 23 custom-made beds, customers at Duvet, which just opened and features contemporary American food, can find private bedrooms, built-in drawers for handbags, and sheets that are changed after each meal and when there’s a big spill.

To reduce such spills, B.E.D. has eliminated several items from its menu, including soups, messy pastas, and entrees that require a lot of cutting. “It took us a long time and a lot of dirty sheets to develop a list of what kind of things we could serve,” Mr. Van Stockum said.

Owners of these bed restaurants say their dining environment allows for a deeper, more intimate atmosphere and conversation. “We tend to build up these social barriers between ourselves and other people, and I think these are torn down when we dine in bed with others,” said Oliver Hoyos, co-owner of B.E.D.

Public dining in bed, even though one is fully clothed, may require a certain amount of adjustment. Some guests will remain in a stiff, upright position for the first 15 to 20 minutes after they arrive, Mr. Hoyos said. “But when you walk back an hour later, people are more relaxed and lounging around, laying across the bed, or leaning back on the pillows.”

B.E.D. has a communal-seating policy in which small parties of one to five guests typically share a bed with other small parties, while parties of six or more have their own bed. However, Duvet, Ono and B.E.D. also offer conventional tables and chairs for customers uneasy about sharing a mattress with strangers.

Brian Elias, 42, a lawyer, is a regular customer at B.E.D. Miami Beach. He said it’s the casual dining atmosphere as well as the excitement of meeting new people that draws him there week after week.

“It’s kind of a free-spirited environment,” he said. “People lie around without shoes on. … They jump from bed to bed, meeting new people. … It’s just a casual, fun, ‘club-like’ environment.”

While dining in bed with strangers may sound like an enjoyable evening for some guests, others have found the experience a little too uncomfortable. Jeffrey Chodorow, owner of Ono — a Japanese eatery in New York that opened in October — said he was offended after arriving at B.E.D. Miami Beach with his wife to hear that they would have to share a bed with other diners.

“I don’t want to lie down on someone’s lamb-chop grease,” he said, indicating that Ono’s bed-dining option doesn’t require customers to share a mattress with strangers. “Whether you’re at a movie theater or a bar, you’re always next to people you don’t know. Sharing a bed with complete strangers is a little different than just sitting next to them, though.”

The bed-dining trend hasn’t caught on in Washington yet, and might never do so. An official at the New York City branch of the National Restaurant Association who wished to remain anonymous said offbeat restaurant trends come and go.

Bed-dining boosters, however, say that by providing a combination of luxurious beds, high-quality cuisine and fulfilling entertainment, patrons won’t want to limit themselves to just one visit.

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