Fine dining in the age of corona: how luxury gastronomy is adapting to Covid-19

Fine dining in the age of corona: how luxury gastronomy is adapting to Covid-19

By
Louise Burfitt
February 16, 2021

The coronavirus has challenged fine dining restaurants to adapt quickly to the swiftly changing F&B market as businesses have battled months of restrictions, shutdowns and limited custom. Before the pandemic began, gourmet gastronomy was a growing market - with over 14,000 Michelin-starred restaurants around the world and many more luxury dining establishments.

Some have predicted that the coronavirus restrictions will signal the end of fine dining. With economic hardship, reduced disposable income and safety concerns, are people really still eager to spend several hours and a large chunk of money on a high-end tasting menu? 

Perhaps, perhaps not: exploring how Michelin-starred restaurants and the like have adapted to the age of coronavirus paints a more nuanced picture. Sure, some restaurants have shut their doors - temporarily or for good. But many others have put on their thinking caps and come up with innovative new ways to serve customers even in a time of great uncertainty and restriction.

 

Trend drivers: the pandemic & its economic fallout 

The coronavirus pandemic is of course the primary trend driver of this shift. Michelin-starred restaurants that had previously never offered takeaway and delivery services have suddenly been forced to reconsider whether or not their style of food service could be adapted for a takeaway or meal kit format. Chefs have also been pushed to consider what people want to eat during a time like this - do people still want haute cuisine or is now a time for comfort food? Revised menus suggest that may be the case.

Economic considerations have arrived alongside the pandemic. When lockdowns were lifted, restaurants in some countries - particularly Europe - were suddenly allowed to open again. But many restaurants could only operate at limited capacity due to coronavirus safety measures, staff absences due to illness and self-isolation, and the extra cleaning needed between diners. Restaurants tend to run on extremely narrow margins and so, finding it difficult to break even, many restaurants have been forced to pivot to find other ways of generating income in the age of social distancing.

 

Exploring the trend: takeout, meal kits, simplified menus & virtual dining rooms 

Some fine dining restaurants have simply closed until they can safely open again, deciding the experience just can’t be replicated at home. But that of course equals a lot of lost income and a lot of time to kill, so some high-end chefs are choosing to find new ways of operating safely.

For many, that means bringing their Michelin stars to their diners’ front doors, by offering takeaway and home delivery. Sounds like an easy option in practice, but recreating a Michelin-starred experience at home is a far cry from asking customers to heat up a takeout curry in the microwave. Some chefs, like Hideaki Sato of one-Michelin-starred Ta Vie in Hong Kong, have therefore chosen to create a totally different takeaway menu. Typically, dishes in luxury restaurants are prepared fresh and served immediately, so takeaway ruins the concept somewhat. Sato feels people dining at home prefer more casual food and also relishes the unexpected opportunity to show a different side to his cooking.  

In the homeland of fine gastronomy, chef Mory Sacko bucked the trend of restaurant closures and opened his one-Michelin-starred restaurant Mosuke in September 2020 between France’s two lockdowns. When the second shutdown hit, Sacko quickly switched to offer takeout food - for a more casual take on the restaurant’s menu of African dishes with a French twist with a takeaway street food menu for a bargain €19. Other restaurants have followed suit in dropping their prices and offering more casual menus. The River Café in London chose to limit their menu to a classic homemade pasta dish with the restaurant’s signature tomato sauce, delivered across the city. 

An array of restaurants offering many different cuisines decided offering takeaway meant too many variables and instead launched their own meal kits. These feast-at-home packs are generally delivered through the postal service, which allows restaurants struggling for business to widen their potential market nationwide. The Cinnamon Club, a high-end Indian restaurant in London, launched their 4-course Feast At Home kit during lockdown for guests to prepare in their own kitchens. Simon Rogan did similar in both the UK and Hong Kong, offering hungry lockdowners a changing three-course at-home menu every week.

For those who have been able to open during the pandemic, many have chosen to serve meals outdoors. French Riviera restaurant Mirazur decided to serve the first course picnic-style outdoors in the restaurant garden to minimise the amount of time diners spent indoors. It proved such a hit with guests that the owners have decided to make it a permanent feature of the dining experience even once the virus is contained. Many have also proceeded with safety in mind by reducing the number of courses and therefore the amount of time guests spend in the restaurant, to limit potential viral exposure and allow time for extra cleaning measures. Istanbul luxury restaurant Mikla decided to offer a two-course alternative to their usual five-course menu to reassure cautious diners.

Other fine dining establishments have taken advantage of the boom in virtual events, using video technology to give their customers a unique experience from the comfort - and safety - of their own homes. Saint Pierre, a two-Michelin-starred restaurant in Singapore, had never offered food for delivery before - firm in the belief that their food was best enjoyed in-house, with all of the added service and presentation elements that afforded. Given the pandemic, a quick pivot was needed: Virtual Saint Pierre was born. Meals are hand-delivered to a customer’s home by a waiter in black tie, and guests are invited to join a virtual dining room via video call. The head chef introduces the dishes over the internet and the waiter returns at the end of the call to collect the dirty dishes, just as he or she would in the restaurant. Other Singapore restaurants have similarly turned to video conferencing software to preserve the communal experience of dining out - 28 HongKong Street hosts online cocktail parties while guests enjoy their appetisers and drinks at home.

 

Case Studies: Noma & The Dabney 

Noma, often called the best restaurant in the world by critics, is a two-Michelin-star restaurant located in Copenhagen, Denmark. The restaurant was forced to close its doors in March 2020 due to coronavirus rules, but reopened in the summer - though not as patrons knew it. Instead of its famous 20-course menu, the fine dining establishment opted to reopen as a burger and wine bar - suspecting that diners wanted comfort food in a time of crisis. With limits on international travel, the restaurant owner René Redzepi decided the shrunken market and the lack of disposable income meant that a more price-sensitive, utilitarian offering was needed. The burger bar was outdoors only, didn’t take bookings and offered just two burgers – a classic cheeseburger and a veggie patty. 

Michelin-starred The Dabney in Washington D.C. is perhaps a cautionary tale of how tricky pivoting - especially during a pandemic - can be. The owners were worried about reopening for table service after a first period of lockdown so tried to find novel ways to serve their customers. An initial burst of takeout orders quickly fizzled as the economic fallout of Covid-19 started to bite: fine dining was one of the first things to go. The chefs devised a cheaper ‘meat and threes’ option, but that didn’t get much traction either. Outdoor dining in the summer brought in some money, but not enough. When the restaurant finally reopened in October 2020, they could only operate at 50% capacity due to virus safety measures. In countries like the US where the virus is raging, it seems there are few simple choices for gourmet restaurants.

 

The perils of pivoting

As The Dabney shows, pivoting during the pandemic is a difficult prospect, especially with reduced revenue. Simon Rogan chef Oli Marlow said that logistics proved the biggest issue when the brand launched its at-home meal kits and takeouts. Some restaurants have found taking control of delivery in house has been key. Others, like the Simon Rogan franchise, have found that working hand in hand with a delivery company closely to organise timing and routes has been successful. 

There’s also the fact that impeccable service is usually a major part of the white tablecloth experience. Many diners come for the service itself, at least in part. Takeaway, of course, comes with no inbuilt service - which makes for an entirely different experience. The lower cost of meal kits and takeout have broadened the traditional base demographic of luxury gastronomy, making it more accessible to some. Fine dining ain’t what it used to be, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

 

The 30-second pitch: Fine dining in the age of corona

👨‍🍳What

  • Faced with the limitations unleashed by the coronavirus pandemic, fine dining restaurants have had to adapt quickly to lockdowns, a lack of in-person customers & limited hours.

🤷‍♂️ Why

  • The restrictions necessitated by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and the related economic fallout are the major drivers pushing fine dining to adapt to the current situation.

🍳 How

  • Meal kits delivered by post
  • Outdoor dining
  • Pivoting to easier-to-serve, cheaper dishes
  • Safety measures
  • Simplified menus
  • Takeout & delivery
  • Virtual dining

 

👀 Who

 

👍 The good

  • Diners stuck at home with disposable income can still continue to enjoy their favourite gourmet dishes and restaurants from the comfort of their living room.

  • Restaurants have been able to broaden their potential market by delivering meal kits by post nationwide.

  • High-end restaurants are often levelled with the criticism that they are too elitist and inaccessible, but by offering cheaper takeout dishes and simplified menus, some gourmet restaurants have become more accessible to a wider group during the pandemic.

👎 The bad

  • Pivoting is not as easy as it sounds: the logistics, cost and publicity work involved have made it difficult for some restaurants to adapt, while others have closed for good.

  • Takeout and delivery is logistically tricky for luxury dishes, which are normally prepared a la minute and served immediately with impeccable service. This level of attentiveness is near impossible to replicate at home.

 

💡 The bottom line 

  • As a result of the pandemic, fine dining has become more accessible: the lower cost of meal kits and takeout have widened the traditional base demographic of luxury gastronomy. Chefs are keen to get back to ‘normal’ service, given how hard it is to create the full luxury dining experience at home, but it’s likely some of the changes wrought by the pandemic will stick around long after the virus has been contained.

Become a FoodHack+ member to get unlimited access

  • Access premium publications
  • Get listed on our directory
  • Join a Global Community

The coronavirus has challenged fine dining restaurants to adapt quickly to the swiftly changing F&B market as businesses have battled months of restrictions, shutdowns and limited custom. Before the pandemic began, gourmet gastronomy was a growing market - with over 14,000 Michelin-starred restaurants around the world and many more luxury dining establishments.

Some have predicted that the coronavirus restrictions will signal the end of fine dining. With economic hardship, reduced disposable income and safety concerns, are people really still eager to spend several hours and a large chunk of money on a high-end tasting menu? 

Perhaps, perhaps not: exploring how Michelin-starred restaurants and the like have adapted to the age of coronavirus paints a more nuanced picture. Sure, some restaurants have shut their doors - temporarily or for good. But many others have put on their thinking caps and come up with innovative new ways to serve customers even in a time of great uncertainty and restriction.

 

Trend drivers: the pandemic & its economic fallout 

The coronavirus pandemic is of course the primary trend driver of this shift. Michelin-starred restaurants that had previously never offered takeaway and delivery services have suddenly been forced to reconsider whether or not their style of food service could be adapted for a takeaway or meal kit format. Chefs have also been pushed to consider what people want to eat during a time like this - do people still want haute cuisine or is now a time for comfort food? Revised menus suggest that may be the case.

Economic considerations have arrived alongside the pandemic. When lockdowns were lifted, restaurants in some countries - particularly Europe - were suddenly allowed to open again. But many restaurants could only operate at limited capacity due to coronavirus safety measures, staff absences due to illness and self-isolation, and the extra cleaning needed between diners. Restaurants tend to run on extremely narrow margins and so, finding it difficult to break even, many restaurants have been forced to pivot to find other ways of generating income in the age of social distancing.

 

Exploring the trend: takeout, meal kits, simplified menus & virtual dining rooms 

Some fine dining restaurants have simply closed until they can safely open again, deciding the experience just can’t be replicated at home. But that of course equals a lot of lost income and a lot of time to kill, so some high-end chefs are choosing to find new ways of operating safely.

For many, that means bringing their Michelin stars to their diners’ front doors, by offering takeaway and home delivery. Sounds like an easy option in practice, but recreating a Michelin-starred experience at home is a far cry from asking customers to heat up a takeout curry in the microwave. Some chefs, like Hideaki Sato of one-Michelin-starred Ta Vie in Hong Kong, have therefore chosen to create a totally different takeaway menu. Typically, dishes in luxury restaurants are prepared fresh and served immediately, so takeaway ruins the concept somewhat. Sato feels people dining at home prefer more casual food and also relishes the unexpected opportunity to show a different side to his cooking.  

In the homeland of fine gastronomy, chef Mory Sacko bucked the trend of restaurant closures and opened his one-Michelin-starred restaurant Mosuke in September 2020 between France’s two lockdowns. When the second shutdown hit, Sacko quickly switched to offer takeout food - for a more casual take on the restaurant’s menu of African dishes with a French twist with a takeaway street food menu for a bargain €19. Other restaurants have followed suit in dropping their prices and offering more casual menus. The River Café in London chose to limit their menu to a classic homemade pasta dish with the restaurant’s signature tomato sauce, delivered across the city. 

An array of restaurants offering many different cuisines decided offering takeaway meant too many variables and instead launched their own meal kits. These feast-at-home packs are generally delivered through the postal service, which allows restaurants struggling for business to widen their potential market nationwide. The Cinnamon Club, a high-end Indian restaurant in London, launched their 4-course Feast At Home kit during lockdown for guests to prepare in their own kitchens. Simon Rogan did similar in both the UK and Hong Kong, offering hungry lockdowners a changing three-course at-home menu every week.

For those who have been able to open during the pandemic, many have chosen to serve meals outdoors. French Riviera restaurant Mirazur decided to serve the first course picnic-style outdoors in the restaurant garden to minimise the amount of time diners spent indoors. It proved such a hit with guests that the owners have decided to make it a permanent feature of the dining experience even once the virus is contained. Many have also proceeded with safety in mind by reducing the number of courses and therefore the amount of time guests spend in the restaurant, to limit potential viral exposure and allow time for extra cleaning measures. Istanbul luxury restaurant Mikla decided to offer a two-course alternative to their usual five-course menu to reassure cautious diners.

Other fine dining establishments have taken advantage of the boom in virtual events, using video technology to give their customers a unique experience from the comfort - and safety - of their own homes. Saint Pierre, a two-Michelin-starred restaurant in Singapore, had never offered food for delivery before - firm in the belief that their food was best enjoyed in-house, with all of the added service and presentation elements that afforded. Given the pandemic, a quick pivot was needed: Virtual Saint Pierre was born. Meals are hand-delivered to a customer’s home by a waiter in black tie, and guests are invited to join a virtual dining room via video call. The head chef introduces the dishes over the internet and the waiter returns at the end of the call to collect the dirty dishes, just as he or she would in the restaurant. Other Singapore restaurants have similarly turned to video conferencing software to preserve the communal experience of dining out - 28 HongKong Street hosts online cocktail parties while guests enjoy their appetisers and drinks at home.

 

Case Studies: Noma & The Dabney 

Noma, often called the best restaurant in the world by critics, is a two-Michelin-star restaurant located in Copenhagen, Denmark. The restaurant was forced to close its doors in March 2020 due to coronavirus rules, but reopened in the summer - though not as patrons knew it. Instead of its famous 20-course menu, the fine dining establishment opted to reopen as a burger and wine bar - suspecting that diners wanted comfort food in a time of crisis. With limits on international travel, the restaurant owner René Redzepi decided the shrunken market and the lack of disposable income meant that a more price-sensitive, utilitarian offering was needed. The burger bar was outdoors only, didn’t take bookings and offered just two burgers – a classic cheeseburger and a veggie patty. 

Michelin-starred The Dabney in Washington D.C. is perhaps a cautionary tale of how tricky pivoting - especially during a pandemic - can be. The owners were worried about reopening for table service after a first period of lockdown so tried to find novel ways to serve their customers. An initial burst of takeout orders quickly fizzled as the economic fallout of Covid-19 started to bite: fine dining was one of the first things to go. The chefs devised a cheaper ‘meat and threes’ option, but that didn’t get much traction either. Outdoor dining in the summer brought in some money, but not enough. When the restaurant finally reopened in October 2020, they could only operate at 50% capacity due to virus safety measures. In countries like the US where the virus is raging, it seems there are few simple choices for gourmet restaurants.

 

The perils of pivoting

As The Dabney shows, pivoting during the pandemic is a difficult prospect, especially with reduced revenue. Simon Rogan chef Oli Marlow said that logistics proved the biggest issue when the brand launched its at-home meal kits and takeouts. Some restaurants have found taking control of delivery in house has been key. Others, like the Simon Rogan franchise, have found that working hand in hand with a delivery company closely to organise timing and routes has been successful. 

There’s also the fact that impeccable service is usually a major part of the white tablecloth experience. Many diners come for the service itself, at least in part. Takeaway, of course, comes with no inbuilt service - which makes for an entirely different experience. The lower cost of meal kits and takeout have broadened the traditional base demographic of luxury gastronomy, making it more accessible to some. Fine dining ain’t what it used to be, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

 

The 30-second pitch: Fine dining in the age of corona

👨‍🍳What

  • Faced with the limitations unleashed by the coronavirus pandemic, fine dining restaurants have had to adapt quickly to lockdowns, a lack of in-person customers & limited hours.

🤷‍♂️ Why

  • The restrictions necessitated by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and the related economic fallout are the major drivers pushing fine dining to adapt to the current situation.

🍳 How

  • Meal kits delivered by post
  • Outdoor dining
  • Pivoting to easier-to-serve, cheaper dishes
  • Safety measures
  • Simplified menus
  • Takeout & delivery
  • Virtual dining

 

👀 Who

 

👍 The good

  • Diners stuck at home with disposable income can still continue to enjoy their favourite gourmet dishes and restaurants from the comfort of their living room.

  • Restaurants have been able to broaden their potential market by delivering meal kits by post nationwide.

  • High-end restaurants are often levelled with the criticism that they are too elitist and inaccessible, but by offering cheaper takeout dishes and simplified menus, some gourmet restaurants have become more accessible to a wider group during the pandemic.

👎 The bad

  • Pivoting is not as easy as it sounds: the logistics, cost and publicity work involved have made it difficult for some restaurants to adapt, while others have closed for good.

  • Takeout and delivery is logistically tricky for luxury dishes, which are normally prepared a la minute and served immediately with impeccable service. This level of attentiveness is near impossible to replicate at home.

 

💡 The bottom line 

  • As a result of the pandemic, fine dining has become more accessible: the lower cost of meal kits and takeout have widened the traditional base demographic of luxury gastronomy. Chefs are keen to get back to ‘normal’ service, given how hard it is to create the full luxury dining experience at home, but it’s likely some of the changes wrought by the pandemic will stick around long after the virus has been contained.

Become a FoodHack+ member to get unlimited access

  • Access premium publications
  • Get listed on our directory
  • Join a Global Community

The coronavirus has challenged fine dining restaurants to adapt quickly to the swiftly changing F&B market as businesses have battled months of restrictions, shutdowns and limited custom. Before the pandemic began, gourmet gastronomy was a growing market - with over 14,000 Michelin-starred restaurants around the world and many more luxury dining establishments.

Some have predicted that the coronavirus restrictions will signal the end of fine dining. With economic hardship, reduced disposable income and safety concerns, are people really still eager to spend several hours and a large chunk of money on a high-end tasting menu? 

Perhaps, perhaps not: exploring how Michelin-starred restaurants and the like have adapted to the age of coronavirus paints a more nuanced picture. Sure, some restaurants have shut their doors - temporarily or for good. But many others have put on their thinking caps and come up with innovative new ways to serve customers even in a time of great uncertainty and restriction.

 

Trend drivers: the pandemic & its economic fallout 

The coronavirus pandemic is of course the primary trend driver of this shift. Michelin-starred restaurants that had previously never offered takeaway and delivery services have suddenly been forced to reconsider whether or not their style of food service could be adapted for a takeaway or meal kit format. Chefs have also been pushed to consider what people want to eat during a time like this - do people still want haute cuisine or is now a time for comfort food? Revised menus suggest that may be the case.

Economic considerations have arrived alongside the pandemic. When lockdowns were lifted, restaurants in some countries - particularly Europe - were suddenly allowed to open again. But many restaurants could only operate at limited capacity due to coronavirus safety measures, staff absences due to illness and self-isolation, and the extra cleaning needed between diners. Restaurants tend to run on extremely narrow margins and so, finding it difficult to break even, many restaurants have been forced to pivot to find other ways of generating income in the age of social distancing.

 

Exploring the trend: takeout, meal kits, simplified menus & virtual dining rooms 

Some fine dining restaurants have simply closed until they can safely open again, deciding the experience just can’t be replicated at home. But that of course equals a lot of lost income and a lot of time to kill, so some high-end chefs are choosing to find new ways of operating safely.

For many, that means bringing their Michelin stars to their diners’ front doors, by offering takeaway and home delivery. Sounds like an easy option in practice, but recreating a Michelin-starred experience at home is a far cry from asking customers to heat up a takeout curry in the microwave. Some chefs, like Hideaki Sato of one-Michelin-starred Ta Vie in Hong Kong, have therefore chosen to create a totally different takeaway menu. Typically, dishes in luxury restaurants are prepared fresh and served immediately, so takeaway ruins the concept somewhat. Sato feels people dining at home prefer more casual food and also relishes the unexpected opportunity to show a different side to his cooking.  

In the homeland of fine gastronomy, chef Mory Sacko bucked the trend of restaurant closures and opened his one-Michelin-starred restaurant Mosuke in September 2020 between France’s two lockdowns. When the second shutdown hit, Sacko quickly switched to offer takeout food - for a more casual take on the restaurant’s menu of African dishes with a French twist with a takeaway street food menu for a bargain €19. Other restaurants have followed suit in dropping their prices and offering more casual menus. The River Café in London chose to limit their menu to a classic homemade pasta dish with the restaurant’s signature tomato sauce, delivered across the city. 

An array of restaurants offering many different cuisines decided offering takeaway meant too many variables and instead launched their own meal kits. These feast-at-home packs are generally delivered through the postal service, which allows restaurants struggling for business to widen their potential market nationwide. The Cinnamon Club, a high-end Indian restaurant in London, launched their 4-course Feast At Home kit during lockdown for guests to prepare in their own kitchens. Simon Rogan did similar in both the UK and Hong Kong, offering hungry lockdowners a changing three-course at-home menu every week.

For those who have been able to open during the pandemic, many have chosen to serve meals outdoors. French Riviera restaurant Mirazur decided to serve the first course picnic-style outdoors in the restaurant garden to minimise the amount of time diners spent indoors. It proved such a hit with guests that the owners have decided to make it a permanent feature of the dining experience even once the virus is contained. Many have also proceeded with safety in mind by reducing the number of courses and therefore the amount of time guests spend in the restaurant, to limit potential viral exposure and allow time for extra cleaning measures. Istanbul luxury restaurant Mikla decided to offer a two-course alternative to their usual five-course menu to reassure cautious diners.

Other fine dining establishments have taken advantage of the boom in virtual events, using video technology to give their customers a unique experience from the comfort - and safety - of their own homes. Saint Pierre, a two-Michelin-starred restaurant in Singapore, had never offered food for delivery before - firm in the belief that their food was best enjoyed in-house, with all of the added service and presentation elements that afforded. Given the pandemic, a quick pivot was needed: Virtual Saint Pierre was born. Meals are hand-delivered to a customer’s home by a waiter in black tie, and guests are invited to join a virtual dining room via video call. The head chef introduces the dishes over the internet and the waiter returns at the end of the call to collect the dirty dishes, just as he or she would in the restaurant. Other Singapore restaurants have similarly turned to video conferencing software to preserve the communal experience of dining out - 28 HongKong Street hosts online cocktail parties while guests enjoy their appetisers and drinks at home.

 

Case Studies: Noma & The Dabney 

Noma, often called the best restaurant in the world by critics, is a two-Michelin-star restaurant located in Copenhagen, Denmark. The restaurant was forced to close its doors in March 2020 due to coronavirus rules, but reopened in the summer - though not as patrons knew it. Instead of its famous 20-course menu, the fine dining establishment opted to reopen as a burger and wine bar - suspecting that diners wanted comfort food in a time of crisis. With limits on international travel, the restaurant owner René Redzepi decided the shrunken market and the lack of disposable income meant that a more price-sensitive, utilitarian offering was needed. The burger bar was outdoors only, didn’t take bookings and offered just two burgers – a classic cheeseburger and a veggie patty. 

Michelin-starred The Dabney in Washington D.C. is perhaps a cautionary tale of how tricky pivoting - especially during a pandemic - can be. The owners were worried about reopening for table service after a first period of lockdown so tried to find novel ways to serve their customers. An initial burst of takeout orders quickly fizzled as the economic fallout of Covid-19 started to bite: fine dining was one of the first things to go. The chefs devised a cheaper ‘meat and threes’ option, but that didn’t get much traction either. Outdoor dining in the summer brought in some money, but not enough. When the restaurant finally reopened in October 2020, they could only operate at 50% capacity due to virus safety measures. In countries like the US where the virus is raging, it seems there are few simple choices for gourmet restaurants.

 

The perils of pivoting

As The Dabney shows, pivoting during the pandemic is a difficult prospect, especially with reduced revenue. Simon Rogan chef Oli Marlow said that logistics proved the biggest issue when the brand launched its at-home meal kits and takeouts. Some restaurants have found taking control of delivery in house has been key. Others, like the Simon Rogan franchise, have found that working hand in hand with a delivery company closely to organise timing and routes has been successful. 

There’s also the fact that impeccable service is usually a major part of the white tablecloth experience. Many diners come for the service itself, at least in part. Takeaway, of course, comes with no inbuilt service - which makes for an entirely different experience. The lower cost of meal kits and takeout have broadened the traditional base demographic of luxury gastronomy, making it more accessible to some. Fine dining ain’t what it used to be, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

 

The 30-second pitch: Fine dining in the age of corona

👨‍🍳What

  • Faced with the limitations unleashed by the coronavirus pandemic, fine dining restaurants have had to adapt quickly to lockdowns, a lack of in-person customers & limited hours.

🤷‍♂️ Why

  • The restrictions necessitated by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and the related economic fallout are the major drivers pushing fine dining to adapt to the current situation.

🍳 How

  • Meal kits delivered by post
  • Outdoor dining
  • Pivoting to easier-to-serve, cheaper dishes
  • Safety measures
  • Simplified menus
  • Takeout & delivery
  • Virtual dining

 

👀 Who

 

👍 The good

  • Diners stuck at home with disposable income can still continue to enjoy their favourite gourmet dishes and restaurants from the comfort of their living room.

  • Restaurants have been able to broaden their potential market by delivering meal kits by post nationwide.

  • High-end restaurants are often levelled with the criticism that they are too elitist and inaccessible, but by offering cheaper takeout dishes and simplified menus, some gourmet restaurants have become more accessible to a wider group during the pandemic.

👎 The bad

  • Pivoting is not as easy as it sounds: the logistics, cost and publicity work involved have made it difficult for some restaurants to adapt, while others have closed for good.

  • Takeout and delivery is logistically tricky for luxury dishes, which are normally prepared a la minute and served immediately with impeccable service. This level of attentiveness is near impossible to replicate at home.

 

💡 The bottom line 

  • As a result of the pandemic, fine dining has become more accessible: the lower cost of meal kits and takeout have widened the traditional base demographic of luxury gastronomy. Chefs are keen to get back to ‘normal’ service, given how hard it is to create the full luxury dining experience at home, but it’s likely some of the changes wrought by the pandemic will stick around long after the virus has been contained.

The coronavirus has challenged fine dining restaurants to adapt quickly to the swiftly changing F&B market as businesses have battled months of restrictions, shutdowns and limited custom. Before the pandemic began, gourmet gastronomy was a growing market - with over 14,000 Michelin-starred restaurants around the world and many more luxury dining establishments.

Some have predicted that the coronavirus restrictions will signal the end of fine dining. With economic hardship, reduced disposable income and safety concerns, are people really still eager to spend several hours and a large chunk of money on a high-end tasting menu? 

Perhaps, perhaps not: exploring how Michelin-starred restaurants and the like have adapted to the age of coronavirus paints a more nuanced picture. Sure, some restaurants have shut their doors - temporarily or for good. But many others have put on their thinking caps and come up with innovative new ways to serve customers even in a time of great uncertainty and restriction.

 

Trend drivers: the pandemic & its economic fallout 

The coronavirus pandemic is of course the primary trend driver of this shift. Michelin-starred restaurants that had previously never offered takeaway and delivery services have suddenly been forced to reconsider whether or not their style of food service could be adapted for a takeaway or meal kit format. Chefs have also been pushed to consider what people want to eat during a time like this - do people still want haute cuisine or is now a time for comfort food? Revised menus suggest that may be the case.

Economic considerations have arrived alongside the pandemic. When lockdowns were lifted, restaurants in some countries - particularly Europe - were suddenly allowed to open again. But many restaurants could only operate at limited capacity due to coronavirus safety measures, staff absences due to illness and self-isolation, and the extra cleaning needed between diners. Restaurants tend to run on extremely narrow margins and so, finding it difficult to break even, many restaurants have been forced to pivot to find other ways of generating income in the age of social distancing.

 

Exploring the trend: takeout, meal kits, simplified menus & virtual dining rooms 

Some fine dining restaurants have simply closed until they can safely open again, deciding the experience just can’t be replicated at home. But that of course equals a lot of lost income and a lot of time to kill, so some high-end chefs are choosing to find new ways of operating safely.

For many, that means bringing their Michelin stars to their diners’ front doors, by offering takeaway and home delivery. Sounds like an easy option in practice, but recreating a Michelin-starred experience at home is a far cry from asking customers to heat up a takeout curry in the microwave. Some chefs, like Hideaki Sato of one-Michelin-starred Ta Vie in Hong Kong, have therefore chosen to create a totally different takeaway menu. Typically, dishes in luxury restaurants are prepared fresh and served immediately, so takeaway ruins the concept somewhat. Sato feels people dining at home prefer more casual food and also relishes the unexpected opportunity to show a different side to his cooking.  

In the homeland of fine gastronomy, chef Mory Sacko bucked the trend of restaurant closures and opened his one-Michelin-starred restaurant Mosuke in September 2020 between France’s two lockdowns. When the second shutdown hit, Sacko quickly switched to offer takeout food - for a more casual take on the restaurant’s menu of African dishes with a French twist with a takeaway street food menu for a bargain €19. Other restaurants have followed suit in dropping their prices and offering more casual menus. The River Café in London chose to limit their menu to a classic homemade pasta dish with the restaurant’s signature tomato sauce, delivered across the city. 

An array of restaurants offering many different cuisines decided offering takeaway meant too many variables and instead launched their own meal kits. These feast-at-home packs are generally delivered through the postal service, which allows restaurants struggling for business to widen their potential market nationwide. The Cinnamon Club, a high-end Indian restaurant in London, launched their 4-course Feast At Home kit during lockdown for guests to prepare in their own kitchens. Simon Rogan did similar in both the UK and Hong Kong, offering hungry lockdowners a changing three-course at-home menu every week.

For those who have been able to open during the pandemic, many have chosen to serve meals outdoors. French Riviera restaurant Mirazur decided to serve the first course picnic-style outdoors in the restaurant garden to minimise the amount of time diners spent indoors. It proved such a hit with guests that the owners have decided to make it a permanent feature of the dining experience even once the virus is contained. Many have also proceeded with safety in mind by reducing the number of courses and therefore the amount of time guests spend in the restaurant, to limit potential viral exposure and allow time for extra cleaning measures. Istanbul luxury restaurant Mikla decided to offer a two-course alternative to their usual five-course menu to reassure cautious diners.

Other fine dining establishments have taken advantage of the boom in virtual events, using video technology to give their customers a unique experience from the comfort - and safety - of their own homes. Saint Pierre, a two-Michelin-starred restaurant in Singapore, had never offered food for delivery before - firm in the belief that their food was best enjoyed in-house, with all of the added service and presentation elements that afforded. Given the pandemic, a quick pivot was needed: Virtual Saint Pierre was born. Meals are hand-delivered to a customer’s home by a waiter in black tie, and guests are invited to join a virtual dining room via video call. The head chef introduces the dishes over the internet and the waiter returns at the end of the call to collect the dirty dishes, just as he or she would in the restaurant. Other Singapore restaurants have similarly turned to video conferencing software to preserve the communal experience of dining out - 28 HongKong Street hosts online cocktail parties while guests enjoy their appetisers and drinks at home.

 

Case Studies: Noma & The Dabney 

Noma, often called the best restaurant in the world by critics, is a two-Michelin-star restaurant located in Copenhagen, Denmark. The restaurant was forced to close its doors in March 2020 due to coronavirus rules, but reopened in the summer - though not as patrons knew it. Instead of its famous 20-course menu, the fine dining establishment opted to reopen as a burger and wine bar - suspecting that diners wanted comfort food in a time of crisis. With limits on international travel, the restaurant owner René Redzepi decided the shrunken market and the lack of disposable income meant that a more price-sensitive, utilitarian offering was needed. The burger bar was outdoors only, didn’t take bookings and offered just two burgers – a classic cheeseburger and a veggie patty. 

Michelin-starred The Dabney in Washington D.C. is perhaps a cautionary tale of how tricky pivoting - especially during a pandemic - can be. The owners were worried about reopening for table service after a first period of lockdown so tried to find novel ways to serve their customers. An initial burst of takeout orders quickly fizzled as the economic fallout of Covid-19 started to bite: fine dining was one of the first things to go. The chefs devised a cheaper ‘meat and threes’ option, but that didn’t get much traction either. Outdoor dining in the summer brought in some money, but not enough. When the restaurant finally reopened in October 2020, they could only operate at 50% capacity due to virus safety measures. In countries like the US where the virus is raging, it seems there are few simple choices for gourmet restaurants.

 

The perils of pivoting

As The Dabney shows, pivoting during the pandemic is a difficult prospect, especially with reduced revenue. Simon Rogan chef Oli Marlow said that logistics proved the biggest issue when the brand launched its at-home meal kits and takeouts. Some restaurants have found taking control of delivery in house has been key. Others, like the Simon Rogan franchise, have found that working hand in hand with a delivery company closely to organise timing and routes has been successful. 

There’s also the fact that impeccable service is usually a major part of the white tablecloth experience. Many diners come for the service itself, at least in part. Takeaway, of course, comes with no inbuilt service - which makes for an entirely different experience. The lower cost of meal kits and takeout have broadened the traditional base demographic of luxury gastronomy, making it more accessible to some. Fine dining ain’t what it used to be, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

 

The 30-second pitch: Fine dining in the age of corona

👨‍🍳What

  • Faced with the limitations unleashed by the coronavirus pandemic, fine dining restaurants have had to adapt quickly to lockdowns, a lack of in-person customers & limited hours.

🤷‍♂️ Why

  • The restrictions necessitated by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and the related economic fallout are the major drivers pushing fine dining to adapt to the current situation.

🍳 How

  • Meal kits delivered by post
  • Outdoor dining
  • Pivoting to easier-to-serve, cheaper dishes
  • Safety measures
  • Simplified menus
  • Takeout & delivery
  • Virtual dining

 

👀 Who

 

👍 The good

  • Diners stuck at home with disposable income can still continue to enjoy their favourite gourmet dishes and restaurants from the comfort of their living room.

  • Restaurants have been able to broaden their potential market by delivering meal kits by post nationwide.

  • High-end restaurants are often levelled with the criticism that they are too elitist and inaccessible, but by offering cheaper takeout dishes and simplified menus, some gourmet restaurants have become more accessible to a wider group during the pandemic.

👎 The bad

  • Pivoting is not as easy as it sounds: the logistics, cost and publicity work involved have made it difficult for some restaurants to adapt, while others have closed for good.

  • Takeout and delivery is logistically tricky for luxury dishes, which are normally prepared a la minute and served immediately with impeccable service. This level of attentiveness is near impossible to replicate at home.

 

💡 The bottom line 

  • As a result of the pandemic, fine dining has become more accessible: the lower cost of meal kits and takeout have widened the traditional base demographic of luxury gastronomy. Chefs are keen to get back to ‘normal’ service, given how hard it is to create the full luxury dining experience at home, but it’s likely some of the changes wrought by the pandemic will stick around long after the virus has been contained.