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How Should Dallas’s Restaurant Industry Move Forward in 2021?

Dallas chefs and food writers sound off on how the industry should rebuild over the next year

Takeout will probably be around for the foreseeable future
Homewood [Official Photo]

Now that 2020 is finally — blessedly — coming to an end, now is the time to think about what comes next for the city’s restaurant industry after an especially brutal year.

As restaurants continue to figure out how to operate in this brave new world of limited capacity, takeout and delivery, and an ever-changing slate of regulations, Eater reached out to the city’s top chefs and food writers with an important question: Where should the restaurant industry go next as it rebuilds?

From better working conditions for people in the industry to continued innovation, here’s what this list of the city’s top food obsessive thinks should come next.

Erin Booke, food and entertainment editor, Dallas Morning News: I hope restaurants begin to focus more on employee retention, providing a stable working environment and a living wage. I also believe it’s time to rethink the tipping system. I know it’s an entrenched issue, but hopefully some restaurants can be in a spot to experiment with a different format. I’d like to see some of the larger restaurant groups in the area that have solid financial backing take the lead here.

Ji Kang, chef, Sloane’s Corner: The outdoor or patio seating trend should increase, especially here in Texas, where we can dine outdoors for much of the year. At Sloane’s Corner, we have been making investments to our patio area to make it comfortable for winter months with tenting and heaters, but many are only dining outdoors. The ease of online or mobile ordering also is a big trend many customers have been enjoying. I think if we all continue to innovate, we can continue to rebuild.

J. Chastain, chef, the Charles: With all the fear and confusion of 2020, restaurants will need to focus on keeping people feeling safe while helping them to forget about all the problems in the world for a couple hours at a time. Finding a good balance is harder than many think.

Jill Bergus, owner, Lockhart Smokehouse: How do we rebuild better? Looking ahead at 2021, reevaluating our systems and keep focusing on where we can excel and how to let go of the things that aren’t working for us.

Amy McCarthy, editor, Eater Dallas: Restaurants have a lot to figure out in 2021. We’re learning that a lot of the old models, both in terms of business and service, just aren’t working. The industry has to figure out how to rebuild while figuring out how to adequately pay its workers, stamp out racial and sexual harassment, and what the new normal looks like.

A woman in a black outfit hands a bag of takeout to a man in a blue shirt and khaki pants. Kathy Tran/EDFW

Andrea Meyer, pastry chef, Bisous Bisous Patisserie: I think we’re going to continue to see innovation and creative ideas from this industry as we all try to survive the downturn in business. I think the ones who can continue to deliver quality food and service while being responsible and creative will weather the storm. I think that has to be our focus.

Rachel Pinn, contributor, Eater Dallas: The pandemic has shown us that every restaurant has to do more to care about its employees, and to prove to their customers that health and safety comes first. That, and the fact that a quick and easy way to get contactless takeout is practically a requirement from now on.

Suki Otsuki, chef, Meddlesome Moth: In many ways I think the restaurant industry needs to evolve. From landlord agreements to how staff is compensated, and menu structure to be more to go/meal kit friendly and so on. We have all learned a lot through the constant challenges and pivots. The only way to rebuild is to know that it will never be the same and figure out how to restructure for stability.

Teresa Gubbins, senior editor, CultureMap: Greater sustainability — less meat, less plastic, less impact on the planet.

Brian Luscher, culinary director, 33 Restaurant Group: Embrace realness, abandon pomposity.

Brian Reinhart, critic, Dallas Observer: There’s been a lot of great discussion at the national level about the need to rebuild the restaurant industry in a more sustainable, employee-friendly way going forward. Great, knowledgeable people have been involved in that conversation — Alicia Kennedy, Ryan Sutton, Sohla El-Waylly, Soleil Ho, Devita Davison, etc. — and I’ll defer to them, except to say that in order to build a better restaurant industry, our government needs to build a better and more equitable economy overall, where restaurants and the rest of us aren’t totally dependent on a tiny fraction of the population who have successfully hoarded all the money. Also, we shouldn’t be dependent on our employers for healthcare coverage. If only.

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