A more informal service has come to be preferred by guests when they dine out; consumers are looking for a bit of personality over the dinner table and not the ‘yes sir’ ‘no sir’ approach of past decades. So has this overtaken the more formal experience or has fancy fine-dining still got its place?
YES & NO
Eamonn Elliott, chief executive, Rockliffe Hall (Pride of Britain Hotels):
There will always be a place for fine food but increasingly, customers want the actual dining experience to be more relaxed. There may still be the occasional diner who wants fine dining, and nothing else, but on the whole, customers want to kick back. Offering our guests fantastic food at Rockliffe Hall is a top priority but we also want them to feel comfortable while they’re eating it. We strive to offer the perfect mix of informal yet informed dining.
Mark Slaney, general manager, Horseshoe Restaurant with Rooms, Eddleston
There is no reason why a restaurant cannot, if it wishes to, combine fine dining with truly personal service. This is what we aim to do at the Horseshoe. I expect that our front of house staff learn guests names rather than just call them “sir” or “madam”, which is sheer laziness. Qualifying dining as “formal” means what? Formal as an adjective means “according to established style”. If the established style is now not wearing a tie, when dining in a Michelin starred restaurant, then surely today’s “formal” is in fact yesterday’s “casual”? Fine dining is continually evolving. So yes, the fine-dining formal experience is alive and well, but as Spock might have said to Captain Kirk: “Jim, it’s formal but not formal as we know it.”
YES & NO
Malcolm Duck, owner Duck’s Inn, Main Street, Aberlady,
I have never been happy with the term ‘fine-dining’, what is it? Modernity and the media seem to need to invent new terms and descriptions for what has always happened on a day to day basis. What’s a Gastro Pub? Indeed what is a restaurant? We have moved a long way from dinner jackets for evening dining and I think more and more people are less and less comfortable with linen table cloths and formality. There are now more restaurants in every part of the market, so those with the ability to pay for top level food, though more in number, are probably spread more thinly. There will, however, always be the need for great, fresh food cooked by talented chefs. Where we will eat it, who knows? I will never eat off a ping pong bat!
Andrew Mosley, General manager, The Grand Hotel, Brighton
As a business, we’re always looking to exceed our guest’s expectation and, as hoteliers, we believe in delivering memorable and personalised experiences. It’s really important to offer customers a choice to suit any occasion and, when providing a more formal experience, still offer a level of personalisation. For example, due to an increase in demand, we’ve developed a new luxury private dining offering with a range of five tasting menus and wine matching and four different rooms to choose from. We’ve already had great feedback and it’s a popular choice for special occasions as well as important client dinners where customers are looking for a fine-dining experience.
YES & NO
Ross Grieve, general manager, Seaham Hall (Pride of Britain Hotels)
The formal dining experience can often be confused with a very British stiff upper lip, which I believe confuses the difference between personal service and the formal dining experience. There are a number of highly regarded and award-winning restaurants throughout the UK that provide a friendly, personable and professional dining experience in a formal environment, and this is where the confusion arises.
Jonathan Lowrey, general manager, Royal Garden Hotel
In a cosmopolitan city like London, the hospitality industry is constantly evolving in order to entice and excite guests. But, while fashions come and go, one thing that should remain consistent is the quality of service – it is this, in part, that defines a fine-dining experience and leaves a lasting memory for guests. As we celebrate our fiftieth anniversary this year, we attribute our success to our distinctive, five-star service. For us, a personal service is more than being attentive; it is being intuitive, offering guests something that they didn’t even know they were looking for.