How Restaurants Are Making It Worth Your While to Dine In

tableside dining restaurants

The latest Australian dining trend sees some restaurants adding a new side to their menu: theatrics. Called tableside service or gueridon service, the serving style sees waiters portioning or partially making food next to a diner’s table.

The style is said to have started in the Middle Ages, when a royal steward would carve meat in a great hall with pomp and ceremony, reports US publication Food & Wine. In modern day, the serving style is most popular in France and other European countries, though, in the last couple years, it’s becoming increasingly available in Australia.

When you order tiramisu at Melbourne’s Grill Americano, a waiter brings a large dish of the dessert to your table and scoops out your slice. And at Sydney Italian restaurant I Maccheroni, one spaghetti dish is swirled in a cheese wheel at your table, while some of the desserts, including limoncello cheesecake and almond tartlette, are also finished in front of you.

Grill Americano tiramisu tableside dining
Image: Grill Americano

“When food is plated right in front of the customers, it demystifies the process that usually happens in the kitchen,” says Marcello Farioli, I Maccheroni’s chef and owner. “They can see the texture and smell the aromas right as it’s prepared.”

A 2022 article in Good Food said tableside dining was the next step in “conspicuous consumption”, a food trend that emerged after lockdown was lifted and Instagram posts of caviar bumps and gold-encrusted steaks encouraged diners into restaurants.

Farioli says he believes tableside dining is becoming more popular in Australia because diners are looking for more than just a meal — they want entertainment with their dining experience.

“Historically, attempts at this kind of dining weren’t successful due to the high costs and labour involved, which didn’t translate into value for the customer,” Farioli says. “But now, as dining costs have risen, people expect a premium experience for a premium price.”

I Maccheroni tableside dining
Image: I Maccheroni

In March this year, a’Mare at Crown Sydney launched a $180pp set menu called the Italian Job with each dish featuring a tableside element in its construction. Its trofie al pesto is ground tableside and, to finish, a gelato cart is wheeled to your table so you can be front row for its scooping and serving.

Chef and restauranteur of a’Mare, Alessandro Pavoni, says he was inspired by his childhood, dining with his parents at restaurants along Italy’s Garda Lake to celebrate special occasions. Tableside service was paramount in those venues.

“Over the years, I’ve seen a move away from the skillset of the front-of-house team, and I was intrigued and excited to bring this back,” he says. “It’s been a challenge and a wonderful change to how we work designing menus and dishes to incorporate tableside elements throughout.”

At Magill Estate in Adelaide, some dishes, including the smoked trout butter and roe and the duck broth infused with shiraz and spring onion, are assembled on one of 14 specially-made wooden service cabinets, positioned at the end of each table.

Tableside dining restaurants
Image: a’Mare

“Tableside dining offers numerous benefits — the best being the enhanced interaction between chefs and diners,” says Scott Huggins, Executive Director at Magill Estate. “This engagement allows guests to witness the skill and craftsmanship that goes into each dish, deepening their appreciation for the culinary art.”

“Also, the theatrical element of seeing dishes being finished tableside adds an exciting, memorable aspect to the dining experience. It transforms a meal into a multisensory event.”

Despite the growing popularity of tableside dining in Australia, Huggins doesn’t see it becoming a standard practice — he sees it remaining only at high-end or unique restaurants as a signature offering.  “It will be reserved for special occasions, enhancing the exclusivity and allure of the dining experience,” he says.

Farioli says like with many other dining trends, social media will play a significant role in its growth. “It makes the meal memorable and shareable, which is perfect for today’s social media-driven culture,” he says.

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