Fine dining takes a hit

Risotto with brown butter 

Recently one of the most iconic restaurants in New York City, Thomas Keller's Per Se, lost its four-star rating from The New York Times. (It also lost its A rating from the NYC health department.) Reviewer Pete Wells was brutal as he detailed the lackluster service and the astronomical cost. "Per Se is among the worst food deals in New York," Mr. Wells writes.

This surprising downgrade, when viewed alongside a a trend toward the glorification of many casual and fast-casual dining establishments, causes food writer Clark Wolf to wonder if the fine dining restaurant is on its way out. Wolf opines that while high-end restaurants like Per Se High belong to the "no matter the cost" world of special occasions like anniversaries, birthdays, engagements, and deal closings, he thinks that in today's economy "sometimes the value proposition is important. Expensive but worth it is the real goal of any luxury product."

He notes that the dining public is more well-informed about food than ever before and subsequently expect smore from a starred establishment like Per Se. Wolf wonders how top-end restaurants will fare "in a world where Tom Sietsema has named casual Portland, Oregon, the number one food city in the U.S. Do we want or need those nine course meals?  Is impressive still satisfying?  Is there real value after a meal passes the $300 mark?"

What do you think? Are fine dining restaurants destined to become dinosaurs in the food world, or is this a one-off in the world of high-end establishments?

Photo of Carnaroli risotto with brown butter from Epicurious by Thomas Keller

4 Comments

  • Rinshin  on  1/20/2016 at 12:08 AM

    I don't think fine dining restaurants are going to disappear, but $300 is too high for me. I won't eat sushi at Jiro's for $300 since I can find comparable sushi elsewhere in Tokyo for much less. My limit is under $200. I paid $150 for tasting menu at Rokusantei in Ginza (the first Japanese Iron chef's restaurant) in spring 2015. Food was fantastic and service very friendly.

  • mbeedles  on  1/20/2016 at 4:32 AM

    I think we are suffering from an over-casualisation of dining. I still prefer a starched tablecloth, a full set of cutlery and carpet on the floor. This casualisation extends into our homes, where structured sit-down meals at the family table are becoming more rare. I think this leads to a lack of respect for food, its origins and its preparation and is related to a range of health and social issues. Fine dining will survive, if restauranteurs remember that dining is about the diner. They risk missing the mark if the diner is given the impression that it's all about the chef. No matter what the price of the meal, if I am dining out I expect something that I couldn't easily make at home, a pleasant ambience and friendly service. If I'm paying hundreds of dollars, then I expect all of these to be outstanding. If they are to survive, it's up to fine dining restaurants to create an experience that's worth going out for.

  • hillsboroks  on  1/21/2016 at 3:25 PM

    When you look at how so many parts of our society have changed to a more casual approach over the past 20 years, it is not surprising that extremely formal and expensive fine dining restaurants are losing favor. Add in the 2008 recession and the still large number of folks who haven't quite recovered from it, and you have another reason that expensive restaurants are declining. Whenever I see a story about only 62 families owning 50% of the wealth in the world I think that pretty well explains why high end restaurants are struggling. It is basic economics - the majority of the population cannot afford to eat at them and their pool of customers is shrinking daily.

  • Waderu  on  1/22/2016 at 11:14 AM

    I think there will always be a place for fine dining, but not for fine dining with underwhelming service, food and sanitation. That is what struck a chord for me regarding this story.

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