The pandemic has brought a whole new dynamic to dining out. The once charming hustle and bustle of a restaurant buzzing with conversation and laughter while waiters maneuver between crammed tables now carries a patina of peril. Instead, high-end restaurants and culinary start-ups are introducing creative and unique dining experiences to recapture the magic of eating out, positioning private dining as the latest luxury.

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In June 2020, the UK saw the launch of Apt, an intimate private dining experience for diners and those in their social bubbles. After the pandemic left the hospitality industry in a dip, some of London’s best high-profile chefs grouped together to recreate a new way of bringing gourmands and food together again. Guests book their ‘party’ of up to 10 people and can select a chef of choice from Apt’s roster, who will create a bespoke menu for the occasion. Each experience takes place in an apartment in East London’s Town Hall Hotel and requires a minimum of £800 spend all round – roughly £100 per person.

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In New York, experiential dining start-up Resident is also adapting their unique culinary events. “At a time where so many New Yorkers are looking to go out while feeling safe and comfortable,” Resident founder Brian Mommsen tells Wunderman Thompson Intelligence, they’re turning to “small-scale events in private spaces. Rather than using communal tables, as we did pre-COVID, we now seat parties together while socially distant from each group. With less foot traffic and revolving staff, guests can feel secure in a controlled environment.” Taking place on swanky balconies, private rooftops and gardens, the events invite guests to take part in an extravagant five- or seven-course tasting menu, paired with a curated wine list, for up to $250 per head.

Dividing up their beautiful interiors for safer dining is California’s acclaimed culinary institution, French Laundry. In August, they opened up their three distinctively themed dining rooms for what Eater described as “an indoor dining experience fit for a Bond villain.” The rooms can be booked out for private dinner parties of two to eight people, where diners are treated to an exquisite tasting menu of Don Perignon, truffles, caviar and foie gras, costing $850 per person.

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Offering the most socially distant dining option is the restaurant at Little Palm Resort and Spa, located on Little Torch Key in Florida. ‘Dinner on the Sandbar’ is a secluded five-course dinner for two, served at a table placed in the ocean at wading height. Guests can enjoy an exotic menu while watching the sun go down beside them as warm water swirls beneath their feet, all for $1000.

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For many consumers, these dining experiences will revive the excitement of eating out lost during the peak of the pandemic, transforming a night out into a cherished luxury.

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