The future of fine-dining might be hot news right now, but in reality, the debate is nothing new. As with many other matters, Covid is just shining a more urgent light on the question of whether we still want to spend our money on the pomp and ceremony of a fine dining menu.
“Fine dining is dead. Or so the headlines went in 2007. And in 2001. And 2000. And 1987”, says Pat Nourse in an article questioning the future of fine dining. (Read here) While fine dining might have survived its doomsayers, will Covid’s new normal and its demand for social distancing and financial prudence put the final nail in the fine dining coffin?
Recently, EatOut, the local authority on all things restaurant-related, asked chefs and restaurateurs the same question. Do they think fine dining will survive the current crisis in the restaurant industry or will we see closhes make way for casual? In their various answers as well as a few other online opinions, I found that our opinions often depend on how we define fine dining.
Perhaps, in our new normal, there is something to be said for the safety of the more controlled environment of fine dining. At the same time, while there is much to the homeliness and comfort of something more casual, the more relaxed offering doesn’t mean carelessness when it comes to protocol and being Covid-conscious. I really don’t think it has to be one or the other. Of course there is casual with care (and flair!), but at the same time, there is more to fine dining than pretence and deep pockets.
Perhaps the complete restaurant experience has to be redefined. There will always be a demand for family-friendly, relaxed experiences and comfort food. Perhaps now, we just expect more from it. We are more food-conscious and our service expectations are much higher – even when the waiter wears jeans. At the same time, we still enjoy the artistry of food, the drama of a food experience and the beauty of well-considered food and wine combinations.
Do we question the future of the arts? Do we think all theatres should shut down just because they have a tough time operating within Covid regulations? I think the same applies for what we know as fine dining restaurants. In the EatOut article, lifestyle guru Seth Shezi agrees and believes that we are “wired to seek pleasure or some sort of reward” and perhaps now, even more than before we will appreciate the occasion and the treat of fine dining.
At the same time, however, restaurants, like all other enterprises have to be flexible and accommodating. When things got tough, local chef Luke Dale Roberts, like the famous René Redzeppi in Denmark, decided to flip burgers. In Melbourne, Ben Shewry brought comfort with a homely lasagne and garlic bread and in London, James Lowe and Pam Yung introduced takeaway pizza. (Read more) But now, with some normality re-entering the scene, restaurants like Noma and The French Laundry are back to an offering similar to before Covid. While he believes that we crave comfort food in uncertain times, Bertus Basson says in the EatOut article: “There will always be the need for finer food and hospitality experiences. The landscape has, however, changed to become more approachable, less intimidating and more affordable.”
Traditionally fine dining, the same as fine wine, implied the best possible quality – usually at a high price. But fine is a word with many meanings (see here!) and perhaps rather than going extinct, fine dining can just do with a bit of redefining. Perhaps the focus has to be on fine’s interpretation of satisfaction, rather than exclusivity. Reuben Riffel believes there will always be a demand for sophistication, but with less pretence. And even though he doesn’t like the categorisation of fine dining, it “absolutely has a future” says Liam Tomlin of Chef’s Warehouse.
In the words of Chef Daniel Boulud, perhaps it is about “fine eating rather than fine dining.” (Read more)