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What is luxury in restaurants?

Di Antonio Caneva, 30 Settembre 2005

I had heard about a restaurant in Nice, built inside a former theatre, where the kitchen is exposed on the stage and customers sit in the area that used to be the stalls.
I happened to be in Monte Carlo and, being curious, I inquired about this restaurant – called Flo – and reserved a table there. After a short walk along the coast (which is always fascinating, especially when the first lights come on) I went to dinner. A pleasant place, very French. In an open space at the entrance the chefs were busy opening oysters and preparing huge shellfish stands, exciting the anticipation of an agreeable evening. The maître showed me to my table, and to my horror I saw that there was a sofa set inside a long alcove, where two-seat tables were arranged in an uninterrupted row, so that for a newcomer to be able to sit on the sofa the table had to be moved forward, and the person, once seated, was left trapped between the people on the sides. Needless to tell how my “agreeable” evening developed, caught up as I was in the conversations of the neighbouring tables, which hardly made it possible to talk with my table companion.
If businesses are to be evaluated on the basis of economic results, this restaurant owner was probably correct: the place was full, and more people kept on coming, without finding a place. Inevitably, however, we come to wonder: how can a restaurant not cater for the well being of its guests, which is given not only by food, but also – and possibly even more – by the pleasantness of the milieu? In my opinion, true luxury is in the space that is made available to customers; there are restaurants where they would place tables even on the stairs, and others which take better care of their guests, and – more correctly – allow for more room and comfort.
Speaking about the quality of his restaurant, Mario Habicher, food and beverage manager of the Michelin-starred restaurant “Number one” of The Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh, says: « You have to see beyond food costs to aspire to such levels ». Quite contradictorily, however, the tables in his restaurant are very close to one another.
I may be a little biased by my fondness for the manager and staff of Park Hyatt in Milan, but I think the arrangement of tables in their restaurant is a good example to follow: they are large, well spaced, and comfortable to sit at.

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