2020 will be the year that upended the restaurant industry. It’s difficult to talk about the year in review when everything changed, when people and businesses suffered during the pandemic. In light of the challenging year for everyone in Los Angeles, we asked food writers and industry folks for how the restaurant industry should change as it rebuilds in 2021.
Mona Holmes, Eater LA Reporter
Restaurants, cafes, bars, and clubs have done everything possible. They played by the rules. They have pivoted more than any industry or closed temporarily. Their losses are no fault of their own. Now, it’s time for the federal government, state, and city to step in to help restaurants with a plan structured to help them survive.
Politicians and officials should approach banks on restaurant’s behalf to see what creative measures can be found around mortgages. Provide incentives around delaying 2020 payments until the end of the loan, and agree to pass on the relief to these struggling businesses. There is no way that restaurants will be able to play catch up in an expensive city like this, so the debt incurred during the pandemic should be forgiven altogether.
And not just around mortgages, utilities. A restaurant owner told me he closed from March until June and incurred a $6,000 power bill. That’s entirely unfair and he had no choice but to pay it. These little things could make a difference for them. I’ve seen small city programs fill up quickly, but they need more. It’s ridiculous that we haven’t seen more help on micro levels for restaurants.
Danielle Dorsey, LA editor, Thrillist
I think the industry should continue partnering with community organizations and mutual aid projects that work to address food insecurity, food apartheid, and food waste, and support undocumented restaurant staff and farmworkers. A lot of people within the industry have stepped up in these areas even as they themselves were struggling and I hope that generosity carries forward when the industry stabilizes.
Euno Lee, Eater LA writer
Diners need to get ready to pay more to support small businesses. If you’re a so-called “foodie” after this pandemic, prepare to cough up for the privilege of having the hobby. This industry needs to prioritize its people and become preferred employers if it has any chance of legal survival into the future. Business owners: Taking care of the human beings who staff your restaurants should not be the first place to cut costs on your P&L. I know it’s easier said than done, but health care, mental health resources, a healthy workplace culture should not be some sort of rare phenomenon in this industry. The culture needs to change, and it starts with us, the diners, being OK with paying more if it means we can ensure that the people who bring us food don’t have to unnecessarily suffer for their passion.
Esther Tseng, freelance writer
Since our hospitals are at 100% right now, we cannot have a healthy restaurant industry without a functioning healthcare system. We need our government to be doing their jobs by paying people to stay home and stop the spread of COVID-19. Once that’s done, we need to restructure our grossly unfair tipping system, especially since dine-in (indoor/outdoor) is not happening. Unfortunately the stop-gap right now is seeing if we can get the RESTAURANTS Act passed when Biden takes office and hopefully McConnell is no longer a Senate majority leader.
Hillary Dixler Canavan, Eater restaurant editor
This pandemic exposed with piercing clarity just how precarious the restaurant industry is. As restaurants come back online, we as a dining culture must finally prioritize workers’ well-being — physically, emotionally. We can do that by supporting restaurants with humane environments, we can do that by continuing to urge our representatives to strengthen the safety net so workers no longer have to choose between their health and their job, we can do that by being willing to pay more for the luxury of dining out.
Jim Thurman, freelance writer
I don’t know. I wish I had an idea that would be of benefit.
Farley Elliott, Eater LA senior editor
Giving voice to workers, and distributing wealth more evenly among staff. Restaurants that ask more of their diners (how to behave, how much to pay), and a food media industry that asks more of ownership, developers, and people across the support chain.
Oren Peleg, Eater LA contributor, freelance writer
Beyond equity for all employees? The industry needs to reassess its relationship with the community. Too often are new restaurants money-grabs by investors trying to create a destination restaurant detached from the community around it. We need to return to restaurants that are communal gathering places for the neighborhood. Places that people can walk to and frequent regularly. Places that are priced appropriately for their community. Places that are meant to last.
Hadley Tomicki, L.A. Taco
Restaurants are instrumental in changing how we view diet, sustainability, farming practices, and fair labor conditions. I’m crossing my fingers for as many of our restaurants to survive or come clawing back as possible, with the hopes that they recognize the incredible power they have over our imaginations and leisure habits, and take greater steps in leading us into practices that heal a world hurtling toward societal ruin and ecological catastrophe. As if they didn’t have enough to worry about.
Matthew Kang, Eater LA editor
Stay casual, stay innovative, stay nimble, stay affordable. Feed people great food, and take care of all stakeholders.