The Casualization of Dining
Mister A's owner Bertrand Hug weighs in on whether today's restaurants are too casual
Posted Thursday, September 12, 2013, 04:36PM
Yesterday, I started a debate about whether or not the trend of casual-gourmet has gone too far. When every restaurant is trying to look like a rock dive, are we losing anything? We’ve had some lively discussion that you can see in the comments (thanks, Jeff Motch). I’ve stated my case. Now, throughout the next week or so, SD Food News will air the thoughts of restaurateurs, chefs, PR reps, GMs, diners, thinkers, you name it.
We start with Bertrand Hug, who has owned and operated Bertrand at Mister A’s since 2000. Mister A’s has been San Diego's figurehead of old-world, formal, high-end dining. It’s changed over the years, loosening its tie to meet customer demands. But they still maintain a bit of a dress code (no flip-flops after 5:30PM). And Hug remains one of the most distinguished, fashionable proponents of dressing up and having a special night at the dining table.
Has the restaurant world gone too casual?
I absolutely believe that we have gone too casual. Most days are a battle (especially this summer) against shorts, tank tops and flip-flops. We do not allow these after 5:30 on the deck and not at all in the dining room.
What dress codes do you still have at Mister A's?
No hat for men (we have sport caps removed routinely), no flip flops or shorts. No jeans with holes or generally shaggy or dirty outfits.
No jacket required?
I would simply kill my business. It was an insidious process that evolved from first no tie required, to no jacket required, to shirts with no jackets, then allowing short sleeve shirts, to collared “golf” shirts. This where we are now.
What concessions have you made?
I allow short-sleeve shirts (collared) and shirts worn outside of the pants.
How do people react to the dress code?
The guests are incredulous when they are turned away and some will bash us on web sites like Yelp, Trip Advisor and others for being stuffy, condescending or arrogant. For a lot of young guests it is almost a badge of honor. It's cool to dress super casual. Casual Fridays in offices has put the exclamation point on the casualization of our culture. I've heard people blame it on our beautiful climate, but it has reached epidemic proportions throughout the country. People used to get dressed up to go to church, out for dinner, to fly somewhere, visit friends or family. But their role models—be it an artist, an athlete, a writer, etc.—show up everywhere super casual. Add to it parents who do not enforce any kind of dress code, and it becomes a tidal wave and that is how we are in this situation.
Do any of your clients miss the formal wear?
There is always a small percentage of guests who complain about the lax dress code, but majority (and wallet) rules.
Are we writing off fine dining?
I totally disagree with that notion. I believe that there is and always will be room for “fine dining." What I see is certain casual dining tremendously improving in quality (starting with the European bistro movement), therefore blurring the line and creating a new class of restaurants Professional service and a beautiful environment, elegant table top and a quieter dining room now represents fine dining in my opinion. There always will be a clientele for tha. It is a cultural thing and here to stay.
The series will continue tomorrow with thoughts from Urban Solace chef-owner, Matt Gordon.
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