A Fine Time to Fine Dine
Younger diners want authenticity, not shortcuts when it comes to upscale fare.
Fine dining can be a difficult sell in today’s restaurant climate, compounded by older clientele and a millennial segment whose attention span is too often delegated by Instagram. But for classic cuisine to capture a younger audience’s recognition, chefs do not need to bend their traditional attire to trends. Staying true to technique and service is still the time-honored standard that never goes out of fashion at these elegant levels.
“Many times, I ask millennials why they choose my restaurant,” says J. Joho, chef/proprietor of Everest in Chicago. The answers he gets are surprising.
“They tell me they think it’s great food, great atmosphere, yes,” he continues, “but they really like coming to my restaurant because they can have a conversation at the table. That’s what I hear most.”
Everest, one of the top French restaurants in the country for more than three decades, has always presented creative cuisine, avoiding heavy-handed ingredient usage. In many respects, it is inherently built to appeal to today’s generation that look to lighter cuisine when dining out.
“I do what I do,” says Joho. “Lots of people still think French food has to use excessive amounts of cream and butter. This is not how I cook at all.
“We look for the most flavor using the best seasonal produce possible. It’s the simplicity and sophistication we have always done here.” Dishes like sole petite grenobloise and crispy Napoleon of apples and caramel sauce are healthier and flavorful, yet still as celebratory as they can be.
Chef Markus Glocker takes a similar approach at Augustine in New York’s Financial District, where millennial diners—who might not be familiar with the classics—are as welcomed as any other guest to enjoy his Vienna-inspired, French cuisine.
“I have maintained my style of flavors and have only really changed the presentation of our dishes,” he explains. “More than ever, ambiance in a restaurant is the key to success, responding to the cycles where old becomes new.”
Dishes such as Dorade Royale and dry-aged côte de boeuf are steeped in tradition and care, but it’s important to Glocker to present a seamless experience that youthful palates may enjoy without reservation.
“Technique is a very important factor, so that the guest is not challenged by the food,” Glocker explains. “Preparation stays in the kitchen, so that all the guest has to do is enjoy the flavor. Augustine is reflecting this concept, where guests enjoy their evening, letting the technique speak for itself, no explanations needed.”
Ultimately, hospitality and service are what make a fine-dining experience memorable, and making guests feel comfortable in what could be an intimidating dining room is always key to winning the younger demographic.
“Millennials don’t want to wear a suit or tie,” says Joho. “If you wear a collared shirt and dress shoes to Everest, you are fine. Millennials don’t dress the same as those in their 50s and 60s, but then again, that’s not anything new.”
“Trends come and go,” he continues, “but class always stays.”