There is a phenomenon in the dining out category that I would call upscale casual. The food has become much more sophisticated in presentation and seasoning, but it is still approachable. The menus are familiar, often a blend of cuisines, and lacking the stamp of an individual chef, as a bistro would have. These are menus that could be franchised.
The service is very friendly and down-to-earth -- it is identical to what you would encounter in anything from a Hard Rock Cafe to a Kelsey's Roadhouse.
These establishments represent better eating in suburbia and smaller urban centres, something that never used to be available.
The big change is in the decor. Instead of themes like Irish pub, rock'n'roll or country kitchen, with a decor package that varies only in the details from location to location, this new type of casual dining lets the guest be more of the star of the show. The guest is not visiting a theme park, they are visiting a private club.
Wildcraft in Waterloo is a great example of this trend. There are usually lots of high ceilings, dark wood, and better appointments, often leather upholstery.There may be a very visible wine cellar as the feature point in the room, as you see here. These are people who have refined tastes, but still want to be relaxed. They want some of the experience of what we used to call 'fine dining', but without the attitude.
The food is described as "new American comfort food", and the experience is adventurous and independent:
Wildcraft is adventurous and independent. Wildcraft is fun, fresh, natural and dynamic.
The ladiesroom experience
One of the best things about this trend is what it means for the ladiesroom. Others in our party were encouraging those who 'didn't have to go' to 'go anyway', just so they could see the premises.
Going down the stairs beside the wine cellar, you enter into a lounge area. I expect that this is a vibrant place in the evening, with people making calls and making time. What a change from the barren hallway, where you must squeeze past others in order to squeeze into the bathroom. This is a foyer!
Once inside, the club-like appointments continue. More wood, more candles, and high-style design in evidence everywhere. This sink was particularly thoughtful, with a place to hook a handbag.
We don't ever want to be without stimulation, and the additional source of advertising is always welcome. So of course there is now video.
I was impressed. These appointments are much nicer than many private clubs, and rival the appointments in dining rooms that charge three or four times the price of a meal here. Note the full-height cubicle doors, again in wood, in the background of the picture below. This is not a temple to fine food, it is a temple to feeling good, feeling relaxed, and feeling special.
I was glad to have the place almost to myself, and my trusty Razr, seen below.