Fine dining restaurants have been the hardest hit segment of the food service industry since the country slid into recession two years ago. Many establishments have closed and other have turned to deep discounting to stay alive during a time when consumers just aren’t willing to spend a lot of money to go out to eat.
As if all that weren’t enough, many fine dining restaurants are having trouble attracting younger patrons because they seem stuffy and “old school” when it comes to atmosphere and dress code. Affluent customers between the ages of 21 and 30 are much less likely to choose a restaurant that requires a sport coat and tie, once a standard in the fine dining segment.
Attitudes towards traditional dress codes have definitely shifted in the last 15 years. Many younger consumers don’t even dress as formally as a tie and sport coat at work, and they definitely don’t want to be required to dress that way when they go out for dinner.
Some fine dining restaurants have started to recruit younger customers by changing their dress code. Many have scrapped a dress code altogether in an effort to broaden their customer base. In general, the reaction has been positive. The trend towards more casual fashion has been building for a long time, and if the fine dining segment of the food service industry is going to thrive, it’s going to have to start catering to a younger customer base.
There will always be ultra formal restaurants that stick to a strict dress code and appeal to a very small segment of customers. But as many restaurants have learned in the past couple years, your customers are perfectly willing to abandon you at the slightest sign of economic trouble, especially if your business model focuses on service and quality rather than price.
As I’ve discussed in a previous post, the customer hunt for value is here to stay, and represents a real shift in how restaurants get business. For those that aren’t focused on competitive pricing, this shift in attitudes represents a real problem. Old social morays like dress code don’t help the situation. In an environment as competitive as food service, those that evolve to shifting customer attitudes are going to be the ones that survive.