MARKET INTELLIGENCE.

Like many species, fine dining, too, is adapting to the new environment of COVID-19.

Humans and animals have adapted to their environments since the beginning of time. Just as the Alaskan Wood Frog freezes it’s body to survive temperatures as low at -80 degrees, food businesses have adaptation skills too. Foodservice establishments are especially strong adaptors, as they are constantly adapting to change within the marketplace as well as changes in consumer behavior, in order to survive. Restaurants were created as places for humans to gather, while fine dining in particular exists at the heart of celebratory moments and special shared social experiences. How has fine dining, the most experiential and social connection-dependent category of restaurant, adapted to shelter-in-place and social distancing?

 

In light of our rapidly evolving COVID-19 environment, TCE has observed several new unique and creative expressions of fine dining. The standard fine dining experience has transformed into three COVID-19 adaptations: DIY, Comfort Conscious, and the Gatsby-esque Entertainer.

The DIY fine dining chef recognizes that consumers are enjoying cooking at home, but would love to have chef support & tips. DIY fine dining is achieved through pantry and meal kits designed by chefs who know how to help you achieve a lasagna that is a tad more elevated than your grandma’s recipe. Côté in New York City offers a grill-at-home dry-aged ribeye with banchan set, their own blend of salt, and ssamjang at $105. For the more adventurous and somewhat culinary savvy quarantiners, a DIY kit may be the most fun you have had on a Saturday night, or a Tuesday night… what day of the week is it again?

The Comfort Conscious fine dining chef is all about “quarantine and chill” - they are focused on producing high-end comfort foods to aid in nourishing the cozy homebody. At San Francisco’s Lazy Bear, chef David Barzelay has coined their program “Camp Commissary”, playing into pantry essentials and familiar, craveable comfort foods, including Grilled Cheese, Liberty Duck Banh Mi, and Biscuits and Gravy, a stark contrast from their typical 18+ course fine dining menu. While Alinea in Chicago, is offering a Duck Cassoulet with reheat instructions for those that want to enjoy a hearty casserole from their couch or dining room table. In the time of COVID-19, luxury looks & feels different - when people are swapping suits for sweats, creating a five-star meal that can be enjoyed on the couch is the new fine dining experience.

 

The Gatsby-esque Entertainer fine-dining chef is striving to bring the multi-course fine dining experience to the quarantine dining table. By providing fine-tuned instructions along with the pre-portioned and prepped components of a multi-course meal, consumers can perform the final step in the chef's process, completing the final touches of an extravagent dining experience on their own. These menus still boast the high end price tag and experience for those who love to splurge in times of uncertainty. Lord Jiu’s, a collaboration between Mister Jiu’s and Lord Stanley in San Francisco, offers a 5-course menu kit designed for 1 at $100 per person with instructions included. Perhaps the new normal indulging in smoked wagyu beef tartare in isolation?

Another mutative aspect of fine dining during COVID-19 is that the food itself is much more affordable and available without the in-person restaurant experience. Please note that this is potentially due to furloughs and lack of restaurant workers in this time, but it creates an accessibility factor for many consumers that fine dining typically does not cater to. N/naka’s Modern Kaiseki is typically $275 per person, but now offer a Kaiseki for home at $85 per person. Suddenly, you can experience a kaiseki, albeit “at home”, without waiting a month for reservations to become available and without paying the extremely high price tag.

 

Adaptation is happening day-by-day at this point and TCE encourages everyone to continue supporting this rapidly evolving industry. As quarantine continues in the United States, we will continue to watch how every segment of our industry adapts. We hope to unearth the power of these adaptations, understanding which are only temporary, and which may stick around post COVID-19... perhaps fine-dining delivery will be part of our new normal.