More than six months into the coronavirus pandemic, restaurants as we once knew them are fundamentally changed. For insight into what’s to come, experts across the industry — chefs, restaurateurs, media, producers, sommeliers, and activists — shared what they predict. The stories in this series explore diversifying revenue streams; ensuring diversity, equity, and inclusion; building a deeper community connection; nurturing a healthier workforce; and joining together to survive. This is the future of restaurants.
The pandemic has proven that restaurants are irreplaceable in their communities — as gathering places, as sustenance, and as employers. They are the places we go to celebrate milestones, to catch up with friends, and to cap off a work day. Without restaurants, our worlds become smaller, more distant, and less enriched.
Experts hope that going forward, diners channel their renewed appreciation for restaurants into tangible support that builds a healthier, happier industry. Good food and warm hospitality cost money, and diners who value what restaurants offer will have to pay for it. In turn, restaurants will leverage more opportunities to nourish their own neighborhoods, feeding those most in need.
Restaurants give more than your average neighborhood store. Restaurants create neighborhoods. In the quotes here, experts imagine how we might recognize and strengthen the connection between restaurants and their communities in the years to come.
“I would like to see restaurants be more community based, the way that World Central Kitchen opened up restaurants to feed the community and first responders. We have the power and know-how and equipment to pump out large amounts of food for people at a small price. I went back to the Bronx to help operate World Central Kitchen at one of their outposts, and I got so much joy feeding the community I grew up in. It would be nice to see that be something that’s built into the DNA of the restaurant industry moving forward.” — Kwame Onwuachi, chef and author of Notes from a Young Black Chef
“I think one of the silver linings of this pandemic is guests finally realize what they are paying for when they go to restaurants. It’s not just wine and food; that obviously can be purchased from a shop and enjoyed at home. It’s the restorative quality of good service and hospitality.” — Victoria James, sommelier and author of Wine Girl
“Dining is about enjoyment and nourishment, but it is also about trust. Taking the necessary steps to make people feel safe and making sure they are safe will be critical to rebuilding trust … Direct communication with consumers will be needed to rebuild trust and strengthen loyalty. Restaurants will need to invest in consumer data, communications, and brand marketing.” — Clare Reichenbach, CEO, James Beard Foundation
“Do we really need to be eating out every single night? I think people need to have a stronger connection with what they put in their mouths and how they eat every single day. Maybe the pandemic has allowed people to learn how to cook a little bit or understand the difference between supermarket produce and farmers’ market produce, what’s in season and how much labor is actually involved in making a plate of food.” — Cheetie Kumar, musician and chef/owner of Garland, Kings, and Neptune’s Parlour
“When we get to the other side of this crisis, customers will simply have to get used to paying more. Restaurants won’t be able to keep menu prices artificially low while they struggle to pay astronomical rents and give employees decent wages and health care. We all miss restaurants terribly and together we are going to have to help bring them back by accepting the fact that it will cost more to eat in them.” — Maile Carpenter, Editor-in-Chief, Food Network Magazine and The Pioneer Woman Magazine
“Coming from a farming standpoint, I think that people need to know the true cost of foods. We have gotten used to seeing $2.99 for 20 pieces of chicken nuggets, and, simply put, that’s just not real food, raised well. Agriculture, and big ag specifically — corn, wheat, soybean — is massively subsidized by the government, and it changes the price of food all the way down the line.” — Jennifer Reichardt, owner and winemaker at Raft Wines and COO of Liberty Ducks