I don’t even like snacking at home—why should I at a restaurant?

Why would you want to eat a calorie-dense mini-meal before a proper one?

Buckhead Diner’s homemade potato chips
A totally acceptable snack: Buckhead Diner’s homemade potato chips

Photograph by Martha Williams

Sometimes I worry that I wasn’t a good mom. I didn’t carry little baggies of Pepperidge Farm Goldfish in my purse everywhere I went to ensure my children had constant nourishment. When I packed their lunchboxes, I included restaurant leftovers, fruit leathers from the health-food store, and the occasional animal crackers—but there were no cutesy snacks such as gummies pretending to be fruit or finger-staining cheese crunchies. For the most part, nonstop noshing wasn’t encouraged in my home.

I recently scoped out two new grocery stores not far from my neighborhood: the giant Publix on Memorial Drive and the two-story Kroger on Ponce de Leon Avenue. I walked the aisles to orient myself in the event I actually wanted to come back and shop. I was appalled by how much space was devoted to snacks: row after row of colorful cardboard boxes and pouches containing crunchy, salty, airy stuff absent nutritional value—air-popped and freeze-dried fruit and vegetables masquerading as convenience but meant to obliterate the need for disciplined eating.

My children must have heard a thousand times that, growing up in France, I didn’t know there was such a thing as a snack until, at the age of 22, I was gifted a bag of Fritos brought from America in a friend’s suitcase. After decades in the States, have I finally adjusted to a life of Doritos and potato chips? Mostly yes, but I hate myself for it. I still consider snacking the enemy of eating.

Restaurants have picked up on people’s ever-increasing need to graze and often include a “snacks” section—in addition to appetizers—on their menu. Only while sitting at a bar do I find it acceptable to eat such things as fried pork skins, tiny meatballs, roasted, salted chickpeas, and warm beer nuts. The same food eaten at a proper dinner table seems silly, even vulgar. Why would you want to eat a calorie-dense mini-meal before a proper one?

I’ve been known to make exceptions to my general ban on restaurant snacks. Always the pioneer, Hugh Acheson has for years devoted a portion of his menu to what he calls “snackies” at both Five & Ten and Empire State South; of course, no one in their right mind could mistake flatbread and cheeses, boiled peanuts, and little mason jars of Southern spreads for junk food. I’m also a supporter of the huge, housemade potato chips smothered with blue cheese at Buckhead Diner; the Frito pies at Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q, where the chili is poured directly into a branded bag of corn chips; the choriquesos (small, deep-fried quesadillas with a layer of chorizo slapped over the cheese and a dab of tomatillo salsa on top) at the new Supremo Taco to-go stand on Memorial Drive; and the “Crispy Chicharrónes from the Farm” (pork, beef, chicken, and veggie chicharrónes with Tajín-seasoned ranch) at Joey Ward’s ultrasnacky new restaurant, Southern Belle.

On the whole, though, I prefer to jump into a meal with a pleasantly empty stomach.

This article appears in our March 2020 issue.