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A munch (derived from "burger munch") is a casual social gathering for people involved in or interested in BDSM. Munches often take place at a restaurant, bar, or coffee shop; the organizer usually reserving a large table, a back area, or a private room. People are free to arrive and leave within the specified hours. The primary purpose is socializing, although some munches also have announcements or demonstrations from local organizations or individuals. Munches are meant to help those who are curious about BDSM meet others, become more comfortable, and better informed. Munches can also be a place to get advice, or pass on anecdotes about BDSM experiences.
Unlike a play party, most munches are informal affairs that discourage fetish attire or BDSM play. However some munches may be held as a get-together prior to a more formal play party, or other groups may be open to the wearing of collars or pride emblems; as such, covert Master/slave interactions, fetish dress, or other BDSM play maybe observed.
Munches have changed with time and with increasing social acceptability of BDSM and fetish lifestyles. Many have expanded to include more people, topics and philosophies. Some munches may have a specific focus, such as spirituality, or whips. Others may be restricted to a specific group; such as women, or submissives. Munches can be very specific to their region, city, or neighbourhood, and regional groups will often host member's only meetings. Each munch is different and reflects the personality of the group that attends it.
Many munch organizers post their event information on social networking sites, some may use e-mail or mailing lists. Local BDSM groups may announce a munch in-person at a meeting, on a community calendar or newsletter, or on their own websites.
Munches started in the 1980s, prior to the widespread introduction of the web. At that time, meeting members of the BDSM scene was difficult, given the prevalent bias against BDSM; which resulted in a lack of places to meet those of the same interest. The USENET group alt.sex.bondage was a common meeting ground online; as was a San Francisco-area email list known as BABES (Bay Area Bondage Enthusiasts Society). While organizations such as the Society of Janus and the BackDrop Club existed, there were few informal ways to meet others socially within the fetish scene. One of the alt.sex.bondage and BABES members, using the pseudonym "STella", organized a social meeting at Flames, a coffeehouse in Santa Clara, California. It was a quiet meeting in one corner of the family-oriented coffee house.
After that initial meeting, an informal rotation of organizers and locations were instituted, with widely varying amounts of success. STella proposed that a standard time and location be chosen; and selected Kirk's Steakburgers in Palo Alto, as it was known for its hamburgers, and had a spacious patio where attendees could meet in relative privacy. This was called the "Burger Munch".
The Kirk's Burger Munch attracted a large and often spirited crowd, some of which participated in discreet play. As time went on, the atmosphere became more overtly fetish and BDSM play oriented, and people started bringing in outside food. Ultimately, the management insisted that the group stop meeting there.
Many of the original participants organized another social gathering just down the street, though STella requested they not use the name "burger munch". The name was shortened to "munch", and the gathering took on a quieter tone. The organizer of the first spin-off munch, Miss Vicki, still runs a munch in the SF Bay Area (www.TheMunch.org).
The term "Burger Munch" was also used in Boston in 1994, with meetings being held at Mr Bartley's Burger Cottage in Harvard Square. Some of the Boston attendees went on to model for images in Screw the Roses, Send Me the Thorns.
While originally a US development, munches have also been adopted in the United Kingdom (UK) over the last 15 to 16 years with most UK cities hosting at least one or two main munches and even some market towns having an occasional informal meet-up. There are currently estimated to be about 100 munches in the UK but as not all are openly advertised arriving at an accurate figure is difficult. The Greater London area alone currently has about 15 munches including a main one in central London, others around the London boroughs and special events for niche groups such as under-35s, bisexuals or practising Jews.
UK munches are often held in pubs or wine bars, frequently without the knowledge of the management, as attenders dress informally in normal street clothes, Goth or leather and thus attract little attention. Such events go unnoticed, which is the main idea. The munchers blend in with the crowd. Most organisers discourage overt BDSM activity at a munch. Some gay pubs are welcoming towards munches with a separate bar or area being set aside once a month for munch attenders of all genders and sexualities. Most UK munches are also trans-tolerant and welcome transvestite, transgendered or anyone identifying as 'Third Way' gendered.
If the pub has a private room or back bar, munch organisers will often arrange the exclusive use of that room with the management. If the munch is held in the main public bar it is customary to have a cuddly toy, a balloon, a colourful PVC handbag or a particular book on show on the main table to let arriving guests know where the munch is located or centred. Some groups have previously used the Scottish flag (the heraldic St. Andrew's Cross) as a munch marker as the St Andrew's Cross is a notable piece of BDSM furniture. However the recent rise in Scottish nationalism has led to some social embarrassment when innocent people have mistaken the BDSM group's purpose and have joined the wrong table expecting political discussion.
Most UK munches are advertised on the internet but a few operate on a 'word of mouth' basis, depending on the nature of the venue. Many munches have a 'meet and greet' system for nervous newbies. This can involve an advertised mobile telephone number which can be telephoned at the time of the munch by a prospective guest. One or two munch organisers will come out of the venue, introduce themselves to the new person and then invite them into the venue and introduce them to the others. UK munches aim to foster an inclusive spirit and can lead to club outings, party invitations, organised trips to fetish fairs, etc.
Two particular UK developments of the munch concept have been the fetish fair and a dedicated 'kink-friendly' coffee bar. Fetish fairs operate in London and Birmingham with occasional events in other towns such as Bristol, Manchester and on the South Coast. The best known fairs are the London Alternative Market, the London Fetish Fair and the Birmingham Bizarre Bazaar. These are held on the first, second and third Sundays of the month, respectively. These fairs are much larger events and include bars, fetish trade stands and suppliers, hot food and normally some kind of workshop demonstration, performance or show-and-tell. The emphasis is as much on education and spreading knowledge of good BDSM practices as in socialising. The only kink-friendly coffee bar was 'Coffee, Cake and Kink' which operated in Covent Garden, London for five years. CCK was a coffee bar and bookshop/art gallery with a substantial chill-out zone downstairs. It became known for its weekly mini-munches and events such as fetish book clubs, demonstrations and workshops. CCK's coffee shop closed several years ago but it has remained active as an online presence. There is some hope that a new CCK will reopen as a coffee bar later this year (2014).