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Casual Food Moving to an Ever More Effortless Dining Experience

One of the most memorable meals I’ve enjoyed was many years ago at the Grill Room within the swanky Connaught Hotel. I cannot remember anything at all about the food but what sticks in my memory are the linen tablecloths.

After each course, the top cloth was removed to reveal a sparklingly clean starched replacement below. At each of the two changes, undertaken between courses, the waiter would item-by-item lift the cutlery and glasses over onto the new cloth as the old one was rolled up sausage-like before removal.

This bit of theatre signified that the Grill Room had certain standards to maintain and that clean tablecloths (no brushing of the cloth after each course in this place) were an important part of how it distinguished itself from the competition. 

Today I feel this sort of activity might be a touch too formal because we have moved into a world where most people would prefer dining experiences that strip out any element of formality.


Gastro Pub Food – Starting a Casual Food Trend?


The trend arguably began with the gastropub movement where high-quality food could be enjoyed in the relaxed environment of a pub. No sign of table clothes in these places and the service became much more easygoing with the serving staff adopting a casual, chatty manner as well as the ditching of uniforms. Exposed tattoos also became the new de rigueur with front-of-house teams.

This is all fair enough but I’m wondering if things have gone a little too far. The demands of younger consumers seem to have gone down to ultra-casual levels and this is reflected in the most popular fast-casual brands that have emerged in recent years. It’s got down to the point that I’m wondering if even using a knife and fork has become too formal for many younger diners. 


Casual food places – convenience & fast food taking over? 


The preferred food types such as burgers and pizzas are invariably eaten without any utensils. The newer brands involving foods such as burritos and tacos including Tortilla, Chipotle and cross-over brand SushiDog (sushi rolls like a burrito) are also knife and fork-free zones. They are packaged up to be eaten on the go and can be conveniently consumed in one hand if required.


Fast casual vs. Fast food


Even the emergence of healthier brands like Urban Greens, Tossed and The Salad Project are based on bowl foods and rely on merely a spoon. I’m questioning whether anybody would risk bringing a new concept onto the market that required anything more than a spoon. Maybe fish and chips have become less popular of late because it’s not quite so easy to eat by hand – especially when you throw in mushy peas!


The demand for casual food and effortless food propositions has even been extended into the composition of menus. KFC has found that its bone-in chicken was not cutting the mustard with younger customers who do not want the hassle of dealing with bones and prefer boneless options. In the US the chain found itself struggling against major rival Chick-fil-A with its boneless menu.


Food delivery trends 


This shift to ultra-casual, no-fuss dining sits particularly well with the rise in delivery where diners can chill out at home in front of the box (TV for older consumers and Xbox for younger) with their chow. Likewise, with the rapidly expanding drive-thru market customers don’t have to bother with the formality of even sitting at a table. They can simply chomp away in the comfort of their own vehicle – an environment stripped of all possible elements of faff and formality and even being seen consuming the meal. Even in a QSR restaurant, there is generally the requirement to adhere to some very basic rules like returning your rubbish to the bins at the end of the meal.

Where we will go next on this move to eradicate any formality is anybody’s guess. Or maybe ordering boneless options from a drive-thru is as casual as dining it is going to get. Since I have something of a soft spot for starched linen tablecloths I’m waiting for the backlash against this move towards ever more effortless ultra-casual dining experiences.

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