We were once content with overdone steakhouse fare or a Little Chef and thought the fine-dining experience of a Michelin-starred restaurant was not for the likes of us.
But now a Cambridge academic has published the first formal study of Britain’s eating out habits – and concluded that Gloucester-trained chef Tom Kerridge is leading the democratisation of our dining classes.
Tom, who honed his skills in the Cotswolds and Salisbury, was one of the chefs who took part in the new study by university academic Christel Lane, who has concluded that his new brand of accessible fine dining means that more and more middle class people are splashing out on going to a “fancy restaurant”.
She said stuffy fine-dining establishments that used to be populated by the posh and rich or by businessmen on expense accounts have been gradually transformed by a wave of middle-class diners, encouraged to visit a nice restaurant and view it in the same way as going to the theatre.
Chefs like Tom Kerridge are maintaining the quality of the fine-dining experience, while appealing to the kind of people who would once have thought they were not posh enough to eat at a restaurant like his.
And at the same time, Ms Lane’s study and new book, called The Cultivation of Taste, has discovered that the middle-classes are now much more ready to turn their noses up at the fastfood takeaway experiences offered by the likes of McDonald’s.
Ms Lane said: “The snobbery of fine-dining is gradually being eroded. It hasn’t completely disappeared – particularly in restaurants with three Michelin stars.
“But there is a new developing group of largely professional people who are interested in the origin of their food and, in the same way they might plan a mini-break, are willing to save up for the occasional treat in a one or two star restaurant.
“Most people I spoke to would go two or three times a year and it’s not just about eating but a total cultural experience, like going to a play.
“This isn’t a complete democratisation, it is more of a new elite.
“You still wouldn’t find many working-class people who regard fine dining as a good use of money,” she added.
Such customers are as likely to dine in a local restaurant or curry house as a two-starred establishment but stop short at high street burgers, she said.
“They have diverse tastes and don’t mind what a meal costs – people can’t afford fine dining all the time and wouldn’t want it if they could,” she added. “But most draw the line at McDonald’s and other chains.
“It would certainly be too soon to say that the British palate as a whole has become more sophisticated.
“But when compared for example with diners I spoke to in Germany, there are certain sections of society who are now more willing to engage with new ideas and the Brits are less puritan about their food. ”