The new high bar
Sure, competition is tighter than just-washed jeggings, and people’s expectations of food quality are sky high, but it’s still a damn good time to open a fine-dining restaurant.
Technomic is forecasting a second straight year of solid growth for the category. Last year, fine-dining beat out all other full-service categories in unit growth, up 5.1 percent, and it’s on track for 3.9 percent unit growth in 2016. (By comparison, fast casual grew 8.2 percent last year, and is up 7.8 percent in 2016).
And while chefs like Bayless peg Chicago diners as inherently more casual and less showy than their coastal big-city counterparts, the dressing-down of fine dining isn’t unique to Chicago or even the Midwest. Everywhere from New York to San Francisco, Philly and St. Louis are seeing the results of the muddying of the fast/fine waters -- as famed chefs like Jose Garces (Amada in NYC, Rural Society in DC and Chicago), Top Chef’s Kevin Sbraga (The Fat Ham in Philadelphia), Michelin-starred David Kinch (Manresa, The Bywater in the Bay Area), James Beard Award-winning Gerard Craft (Taste, Pastaria and the newly launched Sardella in St. Louis) put their brands behind more casual concepts.