Fine dining establishments are crumbling under pressure to pay workers a living wage, meet sustainable practices, and maintain their innovative, trend-setting status. Now, some are turning to broader experiences to compliment their extravagant dishes and stay afloat in an uncertain market.

In January, the Copenhagen restaurant Noma announced its plan to close its doors in 2024. Widely considered one of the world’s best restaurants, the establishment will pivot to become a food lab instead, where it will develop new dishes and products for its ecommerce program, called Noma Projects. The dining room will host popups periodically for special events.

According to Noma’s creator and chef René Redzepi, the restaurant no longer felt it sustainable to upkeep its ongoing luxury dining experience: “financially and emotionally, as an employer and as a human being, it just doesn’t work,” he told The New York Times.

Is fine dining going out of style? One feature by Genevieve Yam for Bon Appétit argues that it is. A former cook and long-time professional in the business, Yam unpacks the pressure she felt working under top-chefs and serving incredibly intricate dishes for little pay. Yam references fictionalized pop-culture shows, such as The Bear and The Menu, that draw on the high-stress environment in the kitchens.

A man with a black hat cuts meat. A woman with dark hair and a white shirt stands with her back to the camera. A man with a camouflage baseball cap stands to the right and watches the man cut meat.
Hunter Gather Cook, image courtesy of UnitedUs

In its place may come a collaborative experience that blurs the line between diner and chef. Foodies are searching for dining experiences that raise the curtain on food origins, letting them take part in the primal, hunter-gatherer component of cooking. A butchery and forgery course called Hunter Gather Cook in Sussex, England allows travelers to get their hands dirty by teaching them to prepare cooked meats and meals from start to finish. Operating from a “survival” mindset, the courses take all day and are hosted in the wild.

Bellini Travel owner Emily Fitzroy told The Times that she’s observed an increase in consumer requests to learn skills in addition to a formal dish in travel culinary courses. “Clients want to return home with newfound knowledge,” she said.

The New York Times published predicts that “experiential eating” will define restaurants in 2023. The theme of engagement, and of consumers craving more interaction for their money, resonates with this idea. Andrew Freeman, a hospitality public-relations veteran in San Francisco, told The Times that consumers “are going to be looking for the value proposition of the experience. Engagement is the catchword.”

The Intelligence take

Shifting worker demands and consumer preferences are making exorbitant dining experiences, similar to those at Noma, a thing of the past. As spending habits pivot in the face of an energy crisis and looming global recession, people want to be involved in the preparation of their food for an immersive and memorable meal. In order to stay afloat, uber-luxury restaurants will need to serve more engaging, authentic and interactive experiences as the main course.

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