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Michelin-starred restaurant caution against takeaway menus at fine-dining prices


Singapore’s Circuit Breaker (CB) measures presented several challenges to F&B establishments. For fine-dining restaurants such as 3 Michelin-starred Les Amis, the problem was how to bring the restaurant's memorable dining experience to home customers. Eateries around the city-state were quickly jumping into takeaways and food delivery options to retain its customer base. But chef Sebastien Lepinoy, Les Amis’ director of Culinary & Operations, felt it prudent to bring the best of Les Amis to the home gradually.  
He noted that some Michelin-starred restaurants are offering a costly takeaway menu.
“Their menu prices for dining-in is the same price as their delivery and takeaway menu,” Lepinoy said. These restaurants should be realistic in the way they price their menus, he added.
During lockdowns, restaurants cannot control the quality of their delivered food. You won't even know when the customer will consume it, he said. 
So pricing a meal for two for around S$300 (US$211) dollars is not appropriate, Lepinoy reasoned. Menu with high price-points is only applicable in a fine-dining environment, where customers get to experience the full effect. From fine china, cutlery and crystal glasses, right to the excellent food with explanations about each dish and over-all faultless service provided by the restaurant. Only when these elements are in place, can a fine-dining restaurant charge that much, he explained. 
That’s why instead of quickly jumping into the takeaway and delivery bandwagon, it took Les Amis more than a month since the CB measures to develop and offer a home dining menu. 
“I divided my strategy into two parts; one is to offer customers a collection of ingredients, and the second, a takeaway menu with affordable ingredients.” The collection includes a selection of carefully sourced food products such as Kaviari Caviar and artisanal butter from Beilevaire, which is hand-crafted exclusively for the restaurant. The takeaway menu consists of comfort dishes such as roast chicken or lamb shoulder with some fruit tarts — all affordable and can be enjoyed by more people.
"I focussed on dishes that are not on my regular menu, to make sure that I do not damage the image of my 3-Michelin star restaurant," Lepinoy revealed. “Because I have lower margin cost, I don’t have to pay a lot of manpower [to prepare the home dining menu], so I can adjust the prices for my customers,” he said. “What’s important is that I made my customers happy and they don’t forget about Les Amis.”

Post-COVID plans
While social distancing may become an iron-clad rule for those dining in restaurants post COVID, Lepinoy does not see this as a problem for Les Amis. In a fine-dining environment, guests are not seated near each other.  Once people can dine in restaurants again, he’ll observe and assess how Les Amis will perform in the first three months after re-opening before implementing any changes as needed.
Lepinoy likened fine dining to the airline business. At first, there will be a lot of hesitation, but eventually, people travel on planes again. This concept is the same as with F&B, and he is not worried about the future. "Of course we don't know yet where we will go, but we must be confident and positive," Lepinoy concluded.

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