Chris Lucas

chris-lucas-100Sitting in the bar downstairs from Chin Chin, restaurateur Chris Lucas says the hospitality industry is changing rapidly.

Chin Chin is one of the highest grossing restaurants per square metre in Australia, and turns over in excess of $10 million dollars a year.

Now he’s just opened up a second restaurant called Baby and he talked to SmartCompany about the death of fine dining, creating a marketing sensation and his plans for international expansion.

Company: Chin Chin and Baby

Aged: 49

Based: Melbourne

Position: Owner and founder

There’s a bit of a perfect storm that’s been brewing.  It’s economic, social and technical – that’s why we’re seeing this really huge change in the last 12 to 18 months.

What occurred in the 80s and 90s was a bit of a blip. In fact, what we’re really doing today is going back to the way people basically socialised and ate centuries ago, in the sense that there’s a real push for integrity and simplicity.

The era of greed in the 80s and the era of whatever in the 90s fostered a really fertile environment for great restaurants, so called three-hat experiences or Michelin star-experiences. Everyone got swept up in that.

I think people got tired with it. There’s only so much luxury or ostentatiousness or top-end experiences one can have in a day or a week or a year.

I saw the changing tide personally 10 years ago – not because I’m some sort of visionary, but because I just got tired of going to some sort of gastronomic temple and paying homage to a great chef.

Some people are bemoaning the fact that fine dining is dying, and others are rejoicing.  That’s evidence of huge change.

Even though people talk about tough times and recessions, my father always used to have the saying that restaurants are recession-proof in a way, because people always have to eat, whether they’re doing well or not doing well.

I’m no different than the great chefs and restaurateurs around the world. If you go to Paris or New York and talk to the so-called leaders of the industry – and even the great chefs in Australia – they’re all talking about casualising their product, feeding a broader market, cooking the food they eat at home and making their restaurants and food more accessible by lowering prices.

Lucky for us, you can’t eat food through a terminal, so that’s a real relief. But technology, has affected [restaurants] in the sense that it’s made us more productive, more efficient.

You bring costs down by feeding more people. Therein lies another change in the way we do business, which is if we want to feed more people, how do we do it effectively? We create different types of restaurants, different environments, different service standards, and at the same time we moved from a reservation system to a non-reservation system.

We’ve stripped a lot of costs out of our business by trying to reduce our rents by going to secondary sites or tertiary sites.

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