O’naturel’s eating in the buff failed to catch on and it’s closing after 15 months. Is this the end for novelty dining experiences?
Paris’s nudist restaurant O’naturel is to close its doors next month, just 15 months after it opened. “We want to make gastronomy work for nudity,” cofounder Stéphane Saada, a former insurance salesman, said in 2017. Instead, the website now states, “it is with great regret” that the time has come to pull the plug.
Contacted for comment, Saada and his twin brother and business partner, Mike, said there wasn’t much else to say: “We’re shutting down because we didn’t have enough clients. We would have preferred this adventure to go on for longer … We had a great start; now it’s best we close.”
The last restaurateur to serve up buff dining could have told them as much. In 2016, Seb Lyall’s bamboo shack of a naked dining pop-up, the Bunyadi, in London, was met with initial interest but shut down three months later; a plan to resurface has not yet been realised.
O’naturel’s 15 months is, in fact, very respectable. Most restaurants don’t make it past a year, even those that allow diners to be dressed – although temperature, and not just the measurable kind, might have been one reason for O’naturel’s downfall. “I found the ambiance very cold,” wrote Topgars34 on TripAdvisor.
It’s true that, decor-wise, the joint looks more like a budget dental surgery than somewhere you would feel comfortable in the altogether. Topgars34 gave the food a decent 7.5 out of 10, but said: “Alone, and without a phone to keep me busy, the meal felt like an eternity.”
More recently, programming included nude karaoke, soirées dansantes and a bikini party (a Facebook update said the last went ahead without the bathing suits at punters’ request) – so it’s not as if O’naturel wasn’t trying.
It might be more that people just want food. Hannah Norris, founder of consultancy Nourish PR, highlights a downturn in novelty restaurants, referencing the recent demise of London’s Flavour Bastards – reviews slated its concept, a questionable, apparently anarchic way with ingredients, as well as irritating service and that offputting name. Where even last year concepts, including dining in the dark or in someone’s garden shed, were still being lauded, Norris now sees interest in straight-down-the-line culinary creativity. The chase, as she puts it, is for “that killer dish” – as long as restrictions on how you might eat it are, well, minimal.
Neither Saada brother is a nudist – in fact, they reportedly dress identically from head to toe – which makes their choice of venture more gimmick than anything else. When asked whether they might pursue any other nudist avenues, they are categorical. “Non”, a long silence and then, again, “Non”.