It’s news to no one that the economy is in turmoil, and the culinary industry is suffering along with it. As consumers rein in their spending, costly restaurant meals are among the first luxuries to go. But Nicholas Lander at the Financial Times
is going one step further
—forecasting the end of the “restaurant” itself.
Not the concept, mind you, but the name. Lander argues that the word “restaurant” carries connotations of high prices and haute cuisine—once seen as exclusive, now simply seen as expensive. Chefs and restaurateurs go out of their way to spin their new ventures as cafes, or bars, or bistros, or trattorias… anything but the wallet-threatening restaurant.
Is the restaurant really endangered? While Lander speaks primarily about his own London, American cities have seen a trend towards increasingly informal openings. Renowned French chef Daniel Boulud, whose double-Michelin starred Daniel is consistently ranked amongst New York’s finest restaurants, opened Bar Boulud
in 2008, a markedly less formal venue. David Chang, whose $100/head Momofuku Ko won two Michelin stars in the year of its opening, recently launched not another restaurant, but a bakery and “milk bar
,” serving breakfast and sweets. Out in Chicago, the team behind acclaimed Merlo and Merlo on Maple
just opened La Trattoria del Merlo, an informal home for their Bolognese fare. And respected New York chefs Marco Canora and Jody Williams have brought their talents not to new restaurants, but to wine bars—Terroir
, respectively, whose elevated bar fare has garnered rave reviews.
That said, higher-end restaurants have hardly disappeared. In Manhattan, several of the fall’s most anticipated openings fell firmly into “restaurant” territory. Restaurateur Drew Nieporent, the man behind Nobu, just celebrated the opening of Corton
, a modern French restaurant (with a $76 prix fixe menu) that has already won laudatory reviews. David Burke’s new seafood restaurant Fishtail
sources all of its fish sustainably, often at a higher cost. And the Belgian restaurant chain Rouge Tomate
has just opened its first location on the Upper East Side—stunning dining room, artisinal cocktails, $72 dinner, and all.
So are restaurants doomed to extinction? Not yet. It seems there’s still a place in the restaurant world for—well, restaurants. But “milk bars,” trattorias, and bistros might well be on the ascendant.