By Megan Prevost
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a diverse array of particular effects on the ways Canadians think about food. In its earliest phases, the pandemic forced many people into a long-term lockdown with a very limited bubble of social connection. For obvious reasons, dining out at restaurants was taken off the table for nearly everyone, and people began to develop a closer and more personal relationship with their meals.
More people began to cook and preserve food at home, as well as starting and maintaining fruit and vegetable gardens or building relationships with local butchers or farmers. In a way, the pandemic reconnected many people to food in the home. Without the chance to go out for dinner, many people began experimenting with cooking in ways they hadn’t before. Food was special; it became one of the lynchpins of human connection we all still had to hold us together.
2022 and beyond
Smash cut to 2022. By now, the pandemic has been quelled, to an extent. Vaccines are widely available at no cost, we have a better understanding of symptoms and surges, and people can make safe and informed choices about how they engage with the world.
Restaurants, too, have returned in full force, with many favourite spots seating at full capacity and serving hungry diners just as they did before.
Yet despite this return to “normal”, dining out feels more special than it once did. In 2019, dining out was as easy a choice as picking out an outfit or a song to play while driving. The pandemic, for many, has thrown into sharp relief that beloved social experiences are not to be taken for granted. To experience a meal out is, in its own way, something special. It’s a meal created by someone whose expertise is creating food; alongside it, they curate ambiance, pairings, service, and every other facet of an experience.
Why fine dining?
When it comes to dining out, no sector of the restaurant industry delivers more on this expectation than its highest tier. Fine dining – which typically includes fixed menus and price points, phenomenal service, options for beverage pairings, and the sense of a lovingly crafted experience – is always special.
Unquestionably, the food in fine dining establishments is expected to be excellent at a minimum, but the experience is what ultimately creates value in those arenas. Many fine dining restaurants, for example, grow their own produce or source it from farms that work exclusively with them. There won’t be anything quite like that in the world; every time a diner enjoys a meal in that dining room, they’re eating something that can’t be found anywhere else.
The deprivation of that experience is the aftermath of the pandemic. Where once upon a time it was the norm to take dining experiences for granted, now that uniqueness is savoured to a degree it wouldn’t have been possible to achieve before. Similarly, though, the expectation of spending money on dining out has declined as many people have adapted to cooking in their own homes. For those who have begun growing their own food, the draw toward restaurants doesn’t exist at the level that it used to.
What does this mean for the industry?
What does this mean for restaurateurs in the wake of a changing world? The answer is worth putting plainly: dining out is more special than ever.
For those in the business of fine dining, the elements of the dining experience have always been carefully curated. Now that any dining out is special, that attention should be paid no matter the level of service. Now more than ever is the time to think about more than just the food your business serves. (You should still prioritize the quality of your food above everything else, but the additional details are more important than ever.) Take your cues from fine dining and begin curating a guest experience. Handling the details makes so much more of an impact on diners than one would think, and making that impact is critical to keeping your business alive in the minds of your regular guests.
Your next steps
So, what details are worth considering? There are many, but as a primary piece of advice, chew on said details one at a time.
The easiest and most visible for many guests is redesigning your menu. If you’re using pictures or throwing something together simply to convey the information, you may be lowering the value of the experience in the eyes of your diners. Put some serious thought into how you curate this vital first impression of your business. Find a gorgeous template and apply your business’ dishes to it, focusing primarily on featured flavours and aromas. Remember – this is about what you want your guest to perceive, not necessarily listing every detail of a dish’s creation.
Once you’ve vetted your menu carefully, turn that same kind of attention to other components of your dining experience. How’s the lighting – are you trying to create a warm and cozy atmosphere or something more in the vein of sunlight and spaciousness? There’s no end to the number of details you can prioritize as the person running a business. Bearing that in mind, don’t let it stress you. This should be one of the joyful elements of building the experience. It’s fun to find ways to emphasize your concept and bring it into the minds of your guests. Take these pieces one at a time and delight in your growth.
Create an experience for your customers in a post-pandemic world
So, now, are more guests turning to fine dining in 2022?
Some absolutely are. The level of curation present in fine dining is unquestionable. Guests seeking experience above everything know this when they book a table and, bearing in mind that going out may be less common for many, they’re seeking to experience a moment of delight.
But the cultural sea change in foodservice means that ultimately, restaurants themselves are turning more to fine dining. It’s a good thing. No one remembers a forgettable, mass-produced meal. They remember moments, and you’re in the business of making them.
Megan Prevost is a contributing writer for RestoBiz and a Content Manager for MustHaveMenus. Her work has also appeared in App Institute, Bar Business, Modern Restaurant Management, Small Business Currents, PMQ, FSR, The Daily Fandom, and FanSided.