Chicago’s 2015 Michelin rating came out recently, and while there were a few surprise starrings and snubs, the biggest shock was that two of the 24 restaurants on the list—L2O and Takashi—won’t be around past this year.
L20 parent Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises announced at the end of October that it will shutter its high-end seafood restaurant at year’s end. And just days after being awarded a Michelin star for the fourth year in a row, chef-owner Takashi Yagihashi announced he’ll shut down his fine-dining spot after New Year’s Eve. Another famed Chicago chef, Graham Elliot Bowles, met a similar fate last year, announcing he was shutting down his namesake concept just after receiving a two-star designation. To do the quick math, that’s three starred restaurants gone in two years.
So if this supposedly elite group of restaurants is wonderful enough to receive a coveted Michelin star, it begs the question: Why can’t they survive?
From the millennial perspective, it says something about what today’s consumers, especially those of a younger vintage, want from a dining experience. Maybe high-end is no longer the way to go. After all, Takashi may be closing, but Slurping Turtle, his less-expensive Japanese spot where you can go in jeans, is thriving. The same can be said for Bowles’ more humble Graham Elliot Bistro that’s still going strong on Chicago’s Restaurant Row. And the number of casual concepts bringing in the big bucks for Lettuce is constantly growing.
For the everyday, non-celebratory dinners out (which make up the vast majority of most millennials’ dining-out occasions), if there’s a cheaper option where the food is just as tasty as the high-end spot and you can go in casual clothes, that’s the clear winner. And bonus points often are awarded for recognizable, pronounceable dishes in place of unknown fish species and molecular-gastronomy powders.
That isn’t to say there’s no place for fancy restaurants. Clearly people still go; it’s nearly impossible to score reservations at other ranked restaurants such as Alinea and Grace. But a trip to Alinea is just that, a trip to a unique dining destination. Not an everyday occurrence. And because millennials have far fewer special-occasion meals than regular dining-out meals, especially with personal-finance concerns still top of mind, the market cannot support a plethora of high-end spots.
Take fun over formality anytime if you’re looking for legs.