REVEALING

Not even Noma could survive the broken restaurant business model

Fancy restaurants can no longer rely on long hours from workers for low pay

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Woman and man enter Noma restaurant.
Fancy.
Photo: Scanpix Denmark (Reuters)

Noma, one of the world’s most influential restaurants, is closing (again).

The Copenhagen-based restaurant announced it will convert to a full-time laboratory in 2025, dedicated to creating new products and flavors. The team will still host culinary popups and events in Denmark, as well as other parts of the world.

“Serving guests will still be a part of who we are, but being a restaurant will no longer define us,” the website now reads.

At Noma, meals started at $500. But chef and founder Rene Redzepi told The New York Times that his pricey restaurant never made him a wealthy man, largely due to the costs of running a high-end restaurant committed to using high-quality ingredients.

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Redzepi said that he’s come to believe that the fine-dining model is unsustainable. “Financially and emotionally, as an employer and as a human being, it just doesn’t work,” he told the Times.

Rising costs for food and labor

Noma’s closing comes as restaurants struggle with rising food and labor costs, which began in earnest with the pandemic and have continued with inflation. But even before the pandemic, restaurant workers were beginning to demand higher wages and better working conditions.

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At Noma, for many years a portion of the staff worked without pay as interns and for more than 16 hours a day. It is this kind of math that has essentially sustained the fine-dining industry across the world.

The future of fine dining

Now that many workers are no longer as willing to put up with low wages in exchange for long, difficult working hours, what will become of the fine-dining industry?

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For Noma it means abandoning it and refocusing the business on selling commercial foods, and holding the occasional “popup.” Redzepi said on Noma’s website that he wants to build a “more sustainable workplace” for the team—one where employees can diversify their skills or focus on a specific area they feel passionate about.

Redzepi said on Instagram that Noma’s employees will be part of the “next chapter,” but did not say on what they will be working.

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This won’t be the first time that Noma has reinvented itself. In 2018, after a year hiatus, Noma reopened as an urban farm concept. In May 2020, at the start of the pandemic, Noma pivoted to a wine and burger bar with takeaway options.