How fickle are Sydney diners? Acclaimed French chef Manu Feildel has complained that they show no loyalty and ''fly like birds'' whenever a new restaurant appears on the scene.
The My Kitchen Rules judge has flown south himself, opening Le Grand Cirque in Melbourne after closing his Paddington fine diner, L'etoile.
''I just find Sydney quite difficult in the last few years,'' he said. ''They've become really, really … what's the word? … fickle. There doesn't seem to be loyalty from the customers. As soon as there's a restaurant opening, they fly like birds and never come back to the nest."
But renowned chef Mark Best, of Surry Hills' Marque and the Pei Modern bistro in Melbourne, said it was a cliche to denounce Sydney diners as fickle.
''It's a throwaway line for the underwhelming. I don't think there are any good restaurants that died through lack of customers; good restaurants have good customers.''
The chief restaurant critic at The Sydney Morning Herald, Terry Durack, said Melbourne diners seemed more loyal, ''slower to adopt new things, and slower to change loyalties once established''.
''In Melbourne, it's about supporting your old favourites and going back for your favourite dishes,'' he said. ''In Sydney, there is a real hunger for the new, a need to be the most up-to-date of all your mates. I'm not sure whether it's a childlike attraction to the superficial and the shiny and new, or a genuine fear of missing out and wanting to be on top of all the wonderful things the world has to offer. Probably both.''
Durack said there was less understanding in Sydney of the joy - and perks - of being a regular, ''establishing a relationship that benefits diner and restaurateur in equal measure''.
''Economically, too, being an 'habitue' makes sense,'' he said. ''We get better value from our restaurants if we see the money we spend in them as an investment instead of an extravagance. As an investment, you want to maximise your return, right? The best way of doing that is to return yourself. Melbourne seems to get that.''
Restaurateur Erez Gordon, who has 25 years' experience in Melbourne and London, said Sydney diners were wary rather than fickle.
''For a long time they've paid very expensive prices for dining and in many cases not particularly received good value,'' said Mr Gordon, co-owner of Bishop Sessa in Surry Hills.
''When the GFC came, I think they stopped taking risks and started waiting for assurances. They're not going to [try a restaurant] until somebody says it's worth it.''
In Melbourne, it's about supporting your old favourites.
Successful venues value their customers, Mr Gordon said. ''I think too many restaurants, particularly at the top end of the market, are about what they do, not who they do it for,'' he said. ''If you speak to the things in people that make them human - if you make them feel warm, feel welcome, feel appreciated - then whether you're in Melbourne or Sydney or Kathmandu, you're going to win a loyal and loving clientele.''
Mark Best said the formula to keep customers loyal has never changed. ''What the so-called fickle diners of Sydney don't reward are restaurants where you get poor food, underwhelming concepts and poor service. The diners will reward [a restaurant with] return visits if they have good service, good food and good ambience.''
Mr Gordon said Sydney diners were spoilt for choice, but had been for 20 years. ''The beauty about loving a restaurant is you're allowed to love more than one,'' he said.
with David Dale