Fine dining versus fun dining

It’s 2017, and it continues to amaze me that there are still formal fine dining restaurants in hotels. It’s such a contradiction.

Every hotel wants to project itself as forward-thinking and relevant. Yet by holding on to a fine dining restaurant and using it as your principle focus for PR and marketing, it immediately projects an image of formality and stuffiness no matter how good the food is.

I came across one last week. It averages about 45 covers a day. The food was very good – but not food you “crave.” It has a wine inventory in excess of $200K yet annual wine revenue is less than $200K. A series of wine maker dinners, some of which attract barely 20 guests, is the focus of their annual PR and marketing. And no surprise, it loses money!

Contrast that with a new concept recently launched by Toronto restaurateur Yannick Bigourdan called Union Chicken. They serve – you guessed it – chicken. But this isn’t just chicken. This is delicious chicken you can taste! They use free range organic chickens from family-run farms in Ontario.

People LOVE chicken. So if people LOVE something, build a restaurant concept around it. It’s not rocket science.

Union Chicken has 75 seats plus 30 on the patio. The investment was CAD $1.8 million, which was high as this was their first of five locations signed to open in the next 14 to 18 months. Anticipated annual revenues are $3.5M with an ROI of under 2.6 years.

Union Chicken’s chef partner, Michael Angeloni, who has a giant rooster wielding a kitchen knife tattooed on his arm, previously worked under renowned Toronto chef David Lee at Splendido, another Bigourdan success story.

Ironically, back in those days, Splendido was a bastion of fine dining. Both Angeloni and Bigourdan saw the light and have moved on. It’s time others followed suit.