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The CEO of an international luxury restaurant group opening a spot in Hudson Yards says diners want 3 main things - and it shows just how much fine dining has changed

Business Insider | Mar 15, 2019, 02.10AM IST

Des and David Portraits Eric Vitale Photography 8

Eric Vitale Photography

Des Gunewardena of luxury restaurant group D&D London.

  • Diners are moving away from the traditional hallmarks of fine dining, according to luxury restaurant group D&D London's CEO.
  • D&D's portfolio includes a Michelin-starred restaurant and a new restaurant in New York City's $25 billion Hudson Yard neighborhood.
  • Diners are now seeking three things, he said: informality, fun, and authenticity.
  • This is creating a new kind of luxury dining experience in which fine dining is less about the fancy trappings and more about the overall quality.

Fine dining just isn't what it used to be - but that's not a bad thing.

Des Gunewardena, CEO and chairman of UK luxury restaurant group D&D London, told Business Insider that people are moving away from the traditional hallmarks of the term "fine dining."

Gunewardena is behind more than 40 restaurants worldwide, which have been frequented by celebrities and royalty throughout the years, from Elizabeth Taylor and Princess Diana to Naomi Campbell and Sir Elton John.

That portfolio includes Michelin-starred restaurant Angler in London and most recently, queensyard, a restaurant set to open on March 14 in New York City's new $25 billion Hudson Yards neighborhood - the most expensive real-estate development in history.

Read more: I toured a new 92-story luxury tower in NYC's Hudson Yards, where condos start at $5 million - and it was clearly designed to be so much more than just a residential building

queensyard

Courtesy of D&D Group

New York penthouse meets English home in D&D's latest venture: queensyard, an 11,000-plus-square-foot restaurant with British-inspired fare and four dining spaces in New York City's Hudson Yards.

So it's safe to say Gunewardena, who's roughly 13 years in with D&D Group, has been around to witness the evolution of fine dining. According to him, there are three things today's diners are seeking when it comes to a luxury dining experience.

"Everyone wants informality, and they want to have fun when eating out," said Gunewardena, adding that many of his customers ordering "seriously good wine" are tech guys wearing jeans and t-shirts. "They don't want to feel as if these are intimidating places - people get more enjoyment out of informality where staff is relaxed."

Diners are also moving away from artifice, he added: "People are more demanding about understanding where everything comes from - you have to be authentic."

People don't want to do be preached to, he said. For example, diners at a farm-to-table restaurant don't want to know the whole background story that begins with the farmer getting up in the morning - they just want to be confident the meat is good quality meat and has been aged properly.

Fine dining is still about quality

But there's one thing that hasn't changed about fine dining: quality food. And it's best presented and cooked with simplicity.

"People aren't interested in how clever you are on the plate; they're not going to the restaurant to be impressed by how clever the chef is," Gunewardena said. "They're going, in the main, to taste great food that has been properly sourced and is often a simple dish that has a slightly different treatment. What is celebrated is a lovely piece of fish or meat rather than how clever you are combining some crazy flavors no one's ever heard of."

There's certainly a crowd for this kind of molecular cooking, he added, but that's not where the world is going.

Read more: After a $500 meal at the world's most luxurious hotel, I stumbled across a $1 fish restaurant on the Moroccan coast - and I'd pick the cheaper one every time

Consider Business Insider correspondent Harrison Jacobs' experience, who dined at the flagship restaurant of the Burj Al Arab in Dubai, one of the world's most decorated luxury hotels where checks can easily top $400 for two people. Not long after, he ate at a local fish restaurant in Morocco. His preference for the latter made him realize that good food doesn't have to be fancy, complicated, or even expensive.

What people usually pay for in a luxury restaurant, Jacobs wrote, is the atmosphere - the ambiance, setting, and excellent service.

But ultimately, there seems to be a general, growing shift in focus from the fancy part of fine dining to the quality aspect.

"People will go into restaurants and spend $500 on a bottle of wine in their jeans and be having a steak - there's a real crossover between what's considered fine dining," Gunewardena said. "People want quality dining - there's a difference between quality and casual."

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