This is the end
20 June, 2012
Recent business trips to a hotel research project in eastern Europe and a client Safari to New York have brought into stark relief the view I’ve held for some
time, which while not popular in some quarters, is nevertheless an inescapable fact, writes Alec Howard. Fine dining is dead.
Save for the uber elite and a handful of global hotels, the surest way to chase away customers and profit is through fine dining. The eastern Europe project required us to map out a major city with a high level of conference trade, visiting all the top end hotels and a cross-section of restaurants. While the city’s rooms were full, the hotels’ “signature” restaurants were, without exception, empty. As were the stand-alone fine dining restaurants.
The more casual restaurants were packed, often with a similar ticket price to the hotels. What was the busiest restaurant in the city? A local version of Hawksmoor doing steaks and cocktails.
New York was, of course, a contrast and on just about every trend imaginable. It was, however, much easier to get a table in fine stalwarts. Grammercy Tavern, Daniel Boulud and Corton all came more easily than the city’s hottest casual venues. Further making the point was that while the fine dining we sampled was all very clever, and expertly executed, it was also a bit ‘so what?’.
Much more memorable were the perfect bangers at DBGB, the burger at the Standard Grill and most of all lunch at Peter Luger. While it may be ridiculous to describe Peter Luger (NYC’s legendary and highly regarded steakhouse) as casual dining, its ultra pared-down menu and service that can best be described as “abrupt” hardly make it fine dining, either.
It is a master class in simplicity, serving the best steak and nothing much else. Oh, and with prices that mean it’s been booked three months in advance for 20 years. As we boarded the plane home after four days of gastronomic abuse, my client was still raving about the steak: “so simple, so perfect”. Couldn’t agree more!
Alec Howard is founder of Planet Food. www.planet-food.com.