Foodie fads are starting to bite
Kiwis dining more casuallyLAURA WALTERS
There is still a place for fine dining in New Zealand's hospitality culture despite the rising popularity of casual-but-not-necessarily-cheaper eating options.
The Restaurant Association's annual hospitality report, released last week, showed Kiwis were eating out more but at casual places.
The report's number one trend, the casualisation of dining, was not a surprise to anyone living in a city filling up with trendy eateries, paper menus, shared plates and no-reservations policies.
Wellington restaurateur Steve Logan said although these services created a casual atmosphere, meals were not always cheaper and the quality of food and service was often not as good as at a fine dining establishment.
The shared plate phenomenon was "cunning", Logan said. "It's a little bit like extracting cash off you through stealth."
Individual dishes were only $7 or $8, which did not look like much at first glance but it took a fair few plates to fill a group of diners.
"You can see on the menu it's not expensive but it builds up."
For about the same price Kiwis could go somewhere "special" and have meals filled with good-quality ingredients, Logan said. "Kiwis aren't so good at understanding value for money."
Logan said some segments of the market were focused on serving big plates but they were "filled up with fluff".
Good-quality and sustainably sourced ingredients, or other environmentally-friendly and responsible aspects added value to a meal and an experience, he said, adding that it was not just about how much food was on the plate.
"With the global recession people are a bit less likely to go to a fine dining place full stop."
But the restaurateur was picking there would be a resurgence. It was really dependent on business and consumer confidence, Logan said, adding that the high dollar was not helping when it came to tourists spending on food and beverages.
"There's a real place for fine dining. People need to celebrate special things."
And for a special occasion it was important everything ran smoothly from the initial reservation right through to the service and the food.
Part of the casual experience and the number-two trend on the Restaurant Association's list was the growth of the no-reservations policy. Logan said reservations reassured people.
"On the upside, if you go to a social dining place you're definitely going to get a table at some point."
There was "a dynamic, fun and lots of theatre" involved in casual dining but people would get sick of it eventually, he said.
Gerard Mooney, manager of Sails restaurant in Auckland, said restaurants that did not take bookings wanted people to have to wait. "Crowds attract crowds."
Mooney mirrored Logan's sentiment on sharing plates, saying that it was not as cheap as people thought. About 60 per cent of the bill was usually drinks, which raised the price, he said.
Restaurant Association chief executive Marisa Bidois said shared plates gave people the opportunity to try new foods and experiment with different flavours.
There would always be a place for individual orders but the sharing plate offered a more communal situation.
Bookings also made it easier to plan staffing and manage wages, Bidois said.
However, the no-reservations policy made people feel like they could come into the business at any time.
"Big reservations that don't turn up can put a big hole in your pocket."
From a practicality point of view, restaurants would continue to take bookings for big groups.
Other trends highlighted in the report were the rise of healthy food, locally-grown food and craft beer.
Bidois said New Zealand was influenced by international trends but Kiwi restaurateurs often put a new spin on global trends, making them their own.
"People are coming here to be inspired."
Both Logan and Bidois were expecting the trend of burger bars with good-quality meat, fresh produce and buns and sauces made on-site to grow.
Logan said he also expected a larger focus on environmentally-friendly and sustainable eating in the coming years, along with the ethical purchasing of products.
"I think the consumers are starting to realise the power they've got."
NUMBERS TO TAKE AWAY
The Kiwi hospitality industry grew sales revenue for the year to March by 6.3 per cent. The total spent in the industry during the year was $7.6 billion, or almost $1700 a person. The total number of outlets grew 1.7 per cent to 14,991.
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