Restaurants give the customer a demand product - they are businesses, they have a bottom line. The expense is not because you're paying the chefs for their skills: if the chef sees their food as an art then they do promotional work and run high-profit things like pre-theatre or set lunches to let them sell what they truly love. The cost of restaurants is from the sheer scale of the overheads. As the type of restaurants in the UK are overwhelmingly of the same service mould, customers expect similar service and food in similarly priced places. You don't get annoyed when a kebab comes with plastic cutlery and you eat it on a bench plastered with bird crap and Wrigley's finest, looking out onto a gutter of vomiting drunks. It was probably about a fiver. You would probably be surprised, however, if the tasting menu with flight of wines was delivered in the same fashion. Once restaurants start demanding that things are done differently through their doors, you polarise the customer base - the blind, intolerant or conservative say it's ridiculous and they should take food and service more seriously, like the hallowed giants of restaurant criticism that they undoubtedly are. Those pitiful, low-rent, bandwagon jumpers will happily try new things though, just to brag about it on Tumblr and as they lace up their Doc Martens for a walk to the record shop, trying to find the most obscure band unknown to humankind. They could even deign to try a pop-up on the way, the sell-outs.
It's the sell-outs of fine dining, the rebels, that are happy to spend money somewhere other than a monument to starched cloths and legions of staff. I'm shameless in my support for these new places: pop-ups, self-service places, the street, cantinas, the lot. The ideas and philosophy behind them are perfect: a place to eat, something to eat with, and things worth eating. And, as with most innovative movements, this was started by chains. Pioneered by Nando's, Wagamama, Pizza Hut and YO! Sushi, customers are slowly getting around to realising that actually, you don't go to out to eat so you can be treated like a demi-God. You go out to eat because of the food and the desire to go somewhere new, or the people there, and because it still feels special. It's that last one that we have to get over - going out doesn't have to be a treat. Not having tablecloths and waiters and sommeliers and different menus and three different glasses has no effect at all on the food. Losing all that isn't lowering the product, it's making it more accessible to more people in more places for less money. If we can get over the fact that going out can be on more than one level, there is a field of possibility open to everyone who's hungry. Viva la revolución.