Fine dining refers to the cuisine and service provided in restaurants where food, drink, and service are expensive and usually leisurely. Turnover per table may be less than one an evening. Many of the customers are there for a special occasion, such as a wedding or birthday. Many customers bring business guests and write off the meal cost as a business expense. The guests are often invited because they can influence business and other decisions favorable to the host. Fine dining is usually found in enclaves of wealth and where business is conducted-cities such as New York, San Francisco, and Palm Beach.
Las Vegas has several fine-dining restaurants catering to tourists and high-stakes gamblers. The restaurants are small, with fewer than 100 seats, and proprietoror partner-owned. The economics of fine dining differ from those of the average restaurant. Meal prices, especially for wine, are high. The average check runs $60 or more. Rents can be quite high. Large budgets for public relations are common. Because of the expertise and time required for many dishes and because highly trained chefs are well paid, labor costs can be high. Much of the profit comes from wine sales. Flair and panache in service are part of the dining experience.
Tables, china, glassware, silverware, and napery are usually expensive, and the appointments can be costly, often including paintings and interesting architectural features. The menus usually include expensive, imported items such as foie gras, caviar, and truffles. Only the most tender vegetables are served. Colorful garnishment is part of the presentation. Delectable and interesting flavors are incorporated into the food, and the entire dining event is calculated to titillate the guests’ visual, auditory, and psychological experience. Expensive wines are always on hand, offered on an extensive wine list. Food fashions change, and the high-style restaurant operators must keep abreast of the changes.
Heavy sauces have given way to light ones, large portions to small. The restaurant must be kept in the public eye without seeming to be so. If given a choice, the restaurant operator selects only those guests who will probably be welcomed by the other guests. Doing this helps to create an air of exclusivity-one way to do this is to park the most expensive autos near the entrance for all to see (Rolls-Royces do well). It also helps to have celebrities at prominent table locations. Very expensive restaurants turn off many well-to-do guests and make others uncomfortable when they feel they don’t fit in or dislike the implied snobbery of the guests or staff.
Luxury hotels, such as the Four Seasons and the Ritz Carlton chains, can be counted on to have restaurants boasting a highly paid chef who understands French, Asian, and American food, who likely attended an American culinary school or trained at a prestige restaurant, and who has mastered French cuisine. Would-be restaurant operators should dine at a few of these restaurants, even though they are expensive, to learn the current meaning of elegance in decor, table setting, service, and food.
(To avoid paying the highest prices, go for lunch and do not order wine.) Better yet, anyone planning a restaurant career should take a job in a luxury restaurant, at least for a while, to get the flavor of upscale
food service-even if you have no desire to emulate what you see.