With the generational gap between the 70’s counter culture people (Boomer’s) - that demanded uber-chic foods from their restaurants in the 1980’s - to today’s dining public: the Y-generation; that has lived through multiple economic down-turns and, Social Revolution over the past two decades; our current dining clientele have no idea what opulent fine dining should be.
The dining populace today is looking for dwindling prices and bold flavors. They are not looking for quality products that are organized in rich visual appeal. It has to be immediate and scrumptious without convoluted service attributes. The dining public that insisted on a 2 and a half-hour dining experience is now long gone. Those people are now investing their disposable income in supporting their aging parents, instead of treating themselves to an evening of culinary pleasures.
There is one avenue in culinary field that is growing in affluence and totality; it is the gourmet market segment. Companies such as: Wild Oats, Whole Foods and The Fresh Market are the big three that are more popular today than anyone could have imagined in the beginning of the 1990’s, when this groundswell was set in motion. It is mainly because if the Boomer’s are not going out to eat in fine dining venues, they are treating themselves now to superlative foods cooked at home. Their teen-age kids are being brought up expecting this should be the norm foods at home before they leave to go to college, it seems as though this trend will transverse to the next generation unlike fine dining of the 1980’s.
Are they the Future?
Gourmet markets flaunting the highest quality cheeses from Europe, olive oils from around the Mediterranean, prime-aged meats and fresh locally harvested seafood, with occasional hints of health-consciousness abound in and around South Florida. Any metropolitan area you go, you will see the big three. There are also a few exceptions to cities where the Big Three haven’t made inroads, where home-grown gourmet markets budded from long-standing family-owned local food markets. These markets over the decades saw that as their clientele gained esteem through their occupations, so did their need to live prestigiously at home. Coupled with the lack of formal dining out of the home and the need to still treat oneself metropolitan gourmet markets flourish.
Look across the Southern United States, were retiring “Boomers” are now settling for a quite retirement from the rat race and see there is an increasing demand for gourmet and prepared food markets. Looking across Florida, Arizona and Texas, gourmet markets like: Epicure, Norman Brother’s, Gardener’s (all in Miami), Fernanda's and Doris markets in Fort Lauderdale and Carmine's of Palm Beach, Rice Epicurean and Eatzies in Houston and Dallas, Central Market in San Antonio, Texas, AJ’s fine foods in Phoenix, have been growing in popularity and scope.
I can remember going shopping downtown to the only place in Fort Lauderdale that sells deCecco pasta, Fernanda’s with my Grand Mother in the 1970’s. This is the way it starts for generational cooking at home. The boomers have already indoctrinated their college aged kids to expect these markets to fulfill their needs for the future.
It has been a long journey for the family markets but, this segment is expanding faster than most any other segment of the food service spectrum.
“We have seen the growth in sales rise ever since the Boomers started to retire”, say the gourmet store manager I interviewed. In Tampa and Sarasota area of the Florida’s West Coast, there is up and coming places like Surf and Turf Market, and Morton’s that have broken away from the Mom and Pop attitude to roasted in house gourmet coffee beans, supply in-house prepared entire home meal replacements, dedicate a major part of the floor space to European cheeses and charcuteire that until recently these commonalities were unattainable in the United States. Across the southern United States, we have seen larger towns and cities where this happens. These markets have been building in reputation for the last decade.
The NEW Social Scene:
A newly unexpected social scene for Boomers, occur at gourmet markets. Not only do people linger long at their favorite markets, purchasing specialty foods for dinner, shopping has become a see and be seen sport. It has become universal rationale to go to your favorite marketplace to spend the afternoon socializing with friends. The social culture has changed from the “me generation” to the “we generation”. As the years pass into decades, the Boomer generation finds that their kids have gone to College and now they have to look outside their home-based life to reintegrate into a social path. Boomers are now living their empty-nest lives through the social and communal aspects of shopping and the Internet. Now that their lives are freer, without children at home the need to be a part of a community grows. Being seen at these markets reaffirms their place in social order of things. Using the Internet is bring the whole right to their computer screen.
The Internet and the markets are now the new Discos for the We Generation. We all want to be interconnected with others, it is a social thing. The society as a whole went through many stages. First TV generation, then it was Cable and it’s broadcasting of specific aspects of the social realm. Cable news brought us together as a country. We all know as much of what is happening in California and New York as around the city in which we live. Cable’s social aspects such as MTV quickly spread to young Americans the Urban sounds that they never would have heard locally in their own rural part of the country without it. The rapid spread of the cable’s cooking program broadcasts have led us to watching shows and their chef hosts that we would have previously read about only on books. This has brought us all to a mindset that we need even more. That is where the Internet has become the number one outlet for information and interconnect-ability.
Not only instantaneous, but everyone now can be a star as long as they can reach a dedicated following. Some feel even more interconnected on a more personal basis. With the ability to choose the blogs and YouTube videos to which, the We Generation is able to pull information instead of the cassic push advertising that reined a few years ago. The social connection is stronger for those who pull information. They want to know more and seek it out on consistent basis.
Dining at home has become influenced by all these evolutions on a daily basis.
Michael Bennett is the author of:
- "In the Land of Misfits, Pirates and Cooks"
- "Underneath a Cloudless Sky"
- "Culture of Cuisine".