The traditional three-course meal is dead, according to a recent article in Vogue magazine.
The article cited The (North American) Restaurant Association’s Culinary Forecast Survey which states the number one culinary theme is ‘chef driven, fast-casual concepts’, as well as ‘grazing – small plate sharing’ and snacking instead of traditional meals.
Three-course meals are nowhere to be seen.
So is Australia following suit?
Yes and no.
“The premise is right, although I am wary to draw logic into the Australian setting,” says John Hart, CEO of Restaurant and Catering Australia, who has just this week returned from North America.
According to Mr Hart, we are ahead of the world in dining trends.
MasterChef Judge, chef and restaurateur George Calombaris agrees with this.
“The world looks to us – what we are doing, and that’s exciting!” says Mr Calombaris.
In fact, way back in July 2015 MasterChef winner, now writer and presenter, Adam Liaw wrote about the demise of the three-course meal.
“There is no doubt we are no longer in the three-course domain,” Mr Hart says.
He refers to “Food Insight Foresight” statistics and says only 10 per cent of diners are having a three-course meal at night and 4 per cent of diners are tucking into a three-course meal for lunch.
Mr Calombaris says: “When I started cooking 20 years ago, especially in fine dining, it was all about the three-course meal, probably starting with a soup course, to get the palate going.
“But, the dining scene has dramatically changed. We are definitely more casual and now we love the idea of eating from the middle of the table.
“Just think of the ancient way of eating – everyone sitting around the camp fire.”
So what and how are we eating now?
Mr Hart cites “the emergence of different cultural cuisines, which have “sharing-oriented plates’” as one reason our habits have changed.
Mr Liaw talks about growing up in an Asian household where his grandmother would prepare three different stir-fries for dinner and Mr Calombaris talks about the ‘Hellenic way of eating’.
“It’s the way we eat and it’s a nice way,” he explains.
“You sit around a table together. Food brings people together.”
But there are other reasons why the three-course meal is on the decline.
“People don’t want to sit around. We eat quickly. Meal times are over in an hour and 40 minutes. In the old days it was 3-4 hours,” Mr Calombaris says, admitting he spends a lot of time looking at trends.
“That’s why we have the ‘Bend Over Box’ at Gazi [his more casual Melbourne CBD restaurant]. The box has seven compartments and it’s got all your meal in it from savoury to sweet.”
Mr Hart believes the substantial growth of the breakfast market is a contributing reason.
Indeed, look at the gastronomic explosion of the ‘smashed avocado’ consumption, which even gave rise to commentary by demographer Bernard Salt.
“We are also seeing an increase in ‘off meal’ dining – brunches and suppers,” says Mr Hart.
Hart adds that each year our average spend on dinner is being reduced by 10 per cent while at the same time menu prices are increasing by 3 per cent in line with CPI.
Restaurants can no longer offer white cloth service, according to Hart. “There’s just no margin.”
And this is best reflected in the closure of fine-dining spots such as Neil Perry’s Rockpool, Guillame Brahimi’s eponymous restaurant and Andrew O’Connell’s Melbourne haunt Moon Under Water.
Taking their place is casual dining with multi-sharing dishes – giving new meaning to the term ‘fast food’.