What is an experience worth?

There is an incredible amount of talk at the moment, and a reasonable buzz, regarding a restaurant picking up from Bray in the United Kingdom, and putting down at Crown.

Like most visitors to Crown, there is a chance The Fat Duck will overplay its hand and go broke, or have the experience of a lifetime, riding lady luck for all she is worth. More than likely the migration will be successful, creating a ripple on take-off, a splash on landing, and glide through six months of calm waters before taking off again.

Heston Blumenthal is a business. Much like Greg Norman took an amazing golf swing and turned it into a multinational brand icon, Heston has done the same with his trade. Like it or not, business is business, and for his latest venture, possibly one of his most elaborate, the romance is deafened by the dollar signs.

Ordinarily, taking any business and moving it across borders is extremely difficult, requiring careful management and detailed organisation. No doubt Heston’s business advisers are responsible for a good portion of what you are paying for lunch or dinner between February and July 2015 at Crown. The staggering price tag per person for the tasting menu is $525. If you enjoy having a couple (or more) with your meal, and you tip, I find it hard to see a couple having dinner for less than $1,300 (and I am being rather conservative).

Why then are many of my friends in Melbourne putting their names down in the ballot? Because Heston and his advisers are geniuses. The marketing says that you are going to have an experience like no other, that you only have a short time to have that experience without travelling over a day on a plane, that if you don’t you may be left out of dinner conversations forever more, and that if you get a result in the ballot it is like winning lotto.

It is my belief that, in fact, the ballot will be undersubscribed (and potentially filled by high rollers). There is a remarkable difference between having an interest in dining somewhere, and forking out average weekly earnings to experience it. There is an even more exceptional difference in those who have previously dined at extremely expensive restaurants, and those who have watched a television show that is full of theatre and fun. I know this point can be taken the wrong way, but there is a certain skill (or delusion) in separating the dining experience and the cost.

Experiences I’ve had at restaurants like Per Se, Eleven Madison, Le Maurice, Arzak, Attica and Momofuku, have been easily talked down by the same people who are potentially going to pay a lot more for The Fat Duck. The arguments of being able to have ten meals that are almost as good for the same price, that the restaurant is full of snobs, and you just end up feeling intimidated, are all fair arguments at times. What it comes down to is the state of mind you are in when entering the restaurant, how the floorstaff shape your experience, and whether you can separate the price tag from each mouthful.

I have put us down in the ballot. I think not being able to pick a date is strange and I think the price is too high. One thing I suggest is not reading one review, one blog, speaking to one person who has been there before you. If I get a table I am going to try to go with as reasonable expectations as possible and not compare each aspect with the other restaurants I’ve been to. Hopefully I can do that, and hopefully it is one of the best dining experiences I’ve had.

At $525 I expect it will be a great experience, but there is a very good chance it will not be the best. I can live with that.

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