When it was announce in February of 2008 that Atlantis, the uber fine dining restaurant at the Renaissance Resort at SeaWorld would not reopen after it had been closed for renovations, I wrote an article that called into question the future of fine dining restaurants. We had already seen the closing of Maison et Jardin, Arthur's 27, Black Swan, Delfino Riviera and La Coquina, which now uses its elegant dining room only for Sunday brunch. And of course since then we've seen Manuel's on the 28th close, as well.
I was reminded by this because of a Reuters article that questions the future of fine dining in New York. Of the 500 New York restaurants that have closed this year (!) several have been upscale eateries, such as Chanterelle and Cafe des Artistes. Things have gotten so bad that Le Bernadin's co-owner Eric Ripert has had to resort to appearing on reality programs such as "Top Chef." Oh, the humiliation!
Of course, when I wrote my article we weren't in a recession -- or at least no one knew it at the time. Rather, most people saw the shift away from fine dining restaurants more as a change in tastes and preferences. A younger generation simply had no use for fineries and painfully exquisite service. They don't mind spending the sort of money associated with high end restaurants, some say, they just want to be able to wear flip-flops when they dine out.
That was likely true then -- and still is now. But the vestiges of remaining fine dining restaurants will have a tougher time hanging on in this economic climate when even the people who still enjoy getting dressed up for an evening-long restaurant experience have had to cut back.
Consider what John Askew, director of food and beverage at Peabody Orlando told me for my 2008 story. Dux, he said at the time, had softened its tone a bit. Waiters moved from jacket and tie to vests and banded-collar shirts. And guests who once were required to wear appropriate attire were no longer being turned away because they didn't meet the dress code. Still, I quoted Askew at the time, "We're committed that room will be there."
Dux closed in January of this year.