Fine dining is at a crossroads
The Future. Noma — the Copenhagen eatery rated the world’s best restaurant — will close its doors for regular dining service at the end of 2024. This decision arrives as many elite restaurants are coming under fire for their treatment of staff, many of whom are underpaid or not paid at all. The trailblazing, labor-intensive, and often expensive style of fine dining that Noma helped create may be undergoing a sustainability crisis.
Since opening 20 years ago, Noma has inspired a new class of gastro tourists who schedule entire vacations around its multi-course tasting menu. Its chef René Redzepi has been hailed as the most brilliant of his time.
However, the responsibility of compensating employees fairly for grueling work hours, while maintaining high standards at prices that the market will bear, is untenable, reports NYT.
- Chef Kim Mikkola, who worked at Noma for years, points out that fine dining often has abuse built into it. “Everything luxetarian is built on somebody’s back; somebody has to pay,” he tells NYT.
- In a 2015 essay, Redzepi confessed to physically and verbally bullying his staff. He acknowledged that his efforts to be a kinder leader have not always been successful.
- Media coverage and online activism disapproving of Noma’s reliance on unpaid interns forced the restaurant to finally pay its interns, adding $50,000 to its monthly labor costs.
The end of a gilded age
But firing on all cylinders has been unsustainable for a while… Until the pandemic kept Redzepi at home, he had never stopped working long enough to question whether the whole business model might be broken, he tells NYT.
So, what’s next for the world’s best restaurant? Noma will become a full-time food lab that develops new dishes and products for its e-commerce operation, Noma Projects. Its dining rooms will only open for special pop-ups.
With a possible global recession on the horizon and an increased awareness of bad behavior within elite industries, it’s just a matter of time before other fine-dining restaurants follow suit.