When you think of fine dining, you think of silver service and luxury. You think of waiters in black waistcoats with an arm fixed behind their back refilling your champagne glass with some luxuriously expensive bubbles.
But in recent years, it seems not everyone’s idea of dining out involves this level of service and grandeur. Instead, diners are content on going somewhere a little more laid back compared to immaculately decked out restaurants and staff that wait on you hand and foot. But do people still value fine dining, or is it now a thing of the past?
Let’s start by understanding where this shift to casual dining came from in the first place. Back in the 19th century, fine dining was considered a classy affair, one that was reserved for extra special occasions with an upper-class clientele to match. But in more recent years, diners want something a little less rigid and a little more relaxed.
According to Webrestaurant Store, between 1790-1820 fine dining came into play in post-revolution France. “After the war, members of the elite class sought new ways to earn money. Many took advantage of their aristocratic background by opening the first fine dining restaurants, where they offered the nobility's dining experiences for an affordable cost. The budding middle class now had money to spend, and eagerly took part in the elements of aristocratic life. Fine dining in Paris flourished, and quickly spread across the Atlantic.”
The rise of casual dining came around the turn of the 20th century when the likes of Henry Ford’s assembly line gained popularity. Like Ford, entrepreneurs were seeing the benefits of producing a high quantity of food at a low price, and over the next few decades Fast Food Nation says the UK was establishing its own kind of ‘fast food’, including pie shops, fish and chip shops and more.
But it was in 1974 that the first real fast food chain opened its doors in the UK - McDonalds. This was the beginning of modern fast food, but it was also around this time that ‘family’ restaurants started making an appearance, according to Webrestaurant Store. “The expanding work force and the prevalence of two working parent households leads to the beginning of the casual family restaurant.” This includes chains like T.G.I. Friday's, Bella Italia and more.
But that’s not to say the rise of chain restaurants has killed fine dining. Two Michelin-starred chef Tom Aikens told the Evening Standard: “It doesn’t mean that people aren’t prepared to pay a lot of money when they eat out. They still want the excellent food associated with fine dining.
“It’s just that people want something more casual with a more relaxed and less formal style of service and feel. That’s what’s more popular now.”
It seems diners still want stunning, high quality dishes (and are prepared to pay for it), but they just want a casual setting. So rather than fine dining becoming a thing of the past, perhaps the concept has just changed.
“Perhaps the true modernisation is to get past the labels and focus on the experience,” says Quench writer Gurvinder Bhatia. “Exceptional-quality food, knowledgeable and customer-oriented service, quality beverage programs and great atmosphere.
“The biggest change in ‘fine dining’ may be accessibility. Being able to enjoy exceptional-quality food in a casual setting allows greater segments of the population to be exposed to the quality and style of food that, in the past, may have only been served in traditional ‘fine dining’ restaurants.”
No longer are restaurants built on wealth, manners and high societies. Diners are now looking for originality when it comes to their dining experiences. And restaurant owners are the same – they are just as passionate as ever about bringing customers something unique and original, that’s not just reserved for the high-class, but for anyone with an appetite for good food. Fine dining is still very much present in the dining industry, but it is no longer about flaunting money and social stature, it’s about enjoying high quality food and memorable dining experiences.