This report is a bonus feature from the Nov. 12 issue of Nation’s Restaurant News, typically available to subscribers only. Subscribe today .
For fine dining, the Great Recession underscored the fact that necessity is the mother of invention — or reinvention, as the case may be.
Confronted with pervasive economic hardship and increasingly cost-conscious consumers, many fine-dining operators have downplayed their status, highlighting affordable luxuries like bar offerings and value-oriented fixed-price menus.
Those efforts are paying off. Visits to fine-dining restaurants rose about 4 percent in the past year, bringing the category closer to pre-recession levels, according to The NPD Group.
This year’s Fine Dining Hall of Fame inductees have weathered the downturn with different tactics.
Eleven Madison Park serves top-priced food to a full house by keeping customers engaged and surprised, drawing inspiration from a dictum of constant change and artistic improvisation.
Tyson Cole helped ignite the Austin, Texas, dining scene when he opened Uchi in 2003, appealing to both Japanese-food purists and lovers of rock-and-roll sushi. Uchi maintains an educated staff that guides guests through sometimes unfamiliar culinary territory.
Service is the key to Lumière’s success, according to owner Michael Leviton, who pointed to the importance of “the whole package” of a great dining experience, including an emphasis on local and sustainable food.
Old-school trappings in the front of the house at centuries-old McCrady’s have not kept the back of the house from dressing aged roasted duck with fermented walnuts or from applying avant-garde techniques to heirloom vegetables.
And finally, this year’s Fine Dining Legend, Daniel Boulud, has brought Lyonnais food on a journey mirroring that of haute cuisine, placing his food where you’d expect it — amid the white-tablecloth service at restaurant Daniel — and where you might not — as in the sausages and burgers at DBGB Kitchen & Bar.
Read more about this year's inductees into Nation's Restaurant News' Fine Dining Hall of Fame: