Bangkok’s fine-dining (translation: fancy, expensive) restaurants are going for something simpler, more casual and affordable.
Another one-Michelin-starred restaurant moving into the casual scene is Le Du by Chef Thitid Tassanakajohn. You may have seen him on television as one of the judges on “Top Chef Thailand”. Thitid just opened Mayrai PadThai Wine Bar, a natural wine bar that serves pad thai and khao soi.
To dine at 80/20 or Le Du, it would easily set you back THB3-4,000, not including alcohol. While a serving of pad thai at Mayrai will cost you only THB79. A lunch at Krok is only THB100-160.
Another example is the Instagram food blogger Mark Wiens, who has over one million followers. He recently opened a kaprao restaurant, Phed Mark. A serving of beef kaprao will cost you THB155. Obviously not the cheapest kaprao you will ever have in your life, but it falls into the category of fancy-going-casual.
Even the rich can’t stomach It
Thailand’s economy has stagnated for over five years, with the latest growth projection at less than 2%. Add the side dish of disappearing Chinese tourism due to the Covid-19 global outbreak, even fancy diners don’t have the stomach to eat.
“We’ve dropped 50% [in revenue] at both Le Du and Baan,” said Thitid. He also owns Baan Restaurant with his brother.
“It has affected everyone and not only fancy restaurants.”
It’s not cheap to open a fancy restaurant. First, you need a chef with an established name. Then, your ingredients must be spot-on, it’s not like you can just get them at Makro. Lastly, you must train your staff properly as the customers will expect a full experience. All of these things cost a lot of money.
But for what?
Siriporn Trachoo, Director of Marketing and Business Consultant at QC Communications, who looks after restaurants in both Thailand and overseas, offers her insights.
“A casual restaurant can expect a revenue return at 60%, while a fine-dining restaurant is at 15%,” she said.
Those numbers apply to normal economic conditions. But during hard times, even a Michelin-star has to dim its fancy kitchen light, and instead, light up the casual scene.
“I opened Mayrai so customers can come two to three times a week without breaking the bank,” said Thitid.
“I hope I can make them happier in this shitty economic period.”
Everybody loves comfort
Fine-dining places cannot rely on repeated customers, casual diners can.
“At the end of the day, people would go back to what they are more familiar and comfortable with. And that is something fine-dining cannot offer,” said Siriporn.
The perception of a fine-dining experience in Bangkok is very luxurious. It has a sense of privilege that not everybody can – or should be able to – afford.
Krok still uses the same ingredients as 80/20, but prepares it with much simpler recipes.
“That makes the prices at Krok a lot lower and people have been responding to Krok really great,” said Napol Jantraget, head chef and partner at 80/20 and Krok.
Siriporn said, “This simpler-and-more-casual restaurant trend will soften the image of fine-dining and make it seem more approachable.”
“Fancy restaurants will also eventually dump down their prices.”
The market for casual cuisines in Bangkok has new competitors, thanks to the economy. But causal doesn’t have to mean worse, and fine-dining doesn’t have to mean expensive.
“The definition of fine-dining for me is not about white linen tablecloth or wine glass setting,” said Napol.
“It’s about how you carefully select the ingredients, or how you choose a certain way to cook. That is fine-dining for me.”