Carolina food experts ponder where the restaurant industry should go

In agreement with Tradition of the Eater, our closing of the year is a survey of friends, industry types and bloggers. To kick off in the Carolinas, Eater asked the group seven questions, ranging from the restaurants they frequented for takeout to the saddest surprises of the year. The answers are in no particular order and readers are encouraged to leave answers in the comments.

Q Where do you think the restaurant industry should go next as it rebuilds?

Eric Ginsburg, freelance journalist and Eater Carolinas contributor, covering NC
Racial equity, mental health and living wages must be enduring priorities, not just passing fads.

Barbara Skidmore, Contributor Eater Carolinas, covering SC and Savannah
Small seasonal menus supported by the community.

Melissa Howsam, editor-in-chief Raleigh Magazine
More local options outside of DTR. We see big names leaving for the suburbs like Clayton, Knightdale, etc. But let’s see them also go to North Raleigh, East Raleigh, West Raleigh, etc.

Cele and Lynn Seldon, Seldon ink
Shorter, less cluttered and less noisy menus.

Kenneth Andrews, Contributor Eater Carolinas
I think we’re going to see a ton more ghost kitchens as well as take-out/delivery-only places. I just hope they’re not all big chains like many of them are now and there’s still plenty of room for locals to shine.

I hope to see more home meal kits. Kwei Fei really opened my eyes to how they could be even better with the kits that come with video instructions, it was such a perfect idea!

I also think we’ll continue to see more and more people hopping up and down the peninsula as it continues to transform into “Charleston, the theme park for the rich ™”

Sam Spence, Charleston City Paper Editor
I’ve loved that even tradition-conscious restaurants are embracing online ordering and reservation services out of sheer convenience during times of distancing. I hope it (the technology) stays…if only so I can come in and pick up my OG bowl at Jackrabbit Filly pronto.

Jacob Pucci, food and culinary journalist for The Fayetteville Observer
I think the fact that the “labour shortage” continued long after the unemployment benefit extension ended should be proof that the problem has always been in the restaurants themselves. Many people have left the restaurant industry during the pandemic and are not returning. If the industry is going to rebuild, restaurateurs are going to have to invest more in their people and make working in the restaurant industry attractive again.

jenn rice, freelance writer and Eater Carolinas contributor, covering NC
I wish it went back to the chefs who simply cook great food for their communities. I know it’s not that simple, but I feel like if you’re still riding that wave, you’re really here because you want to be in the industry and make a difference by cooking.

Matt Lardie, freelance writer and Eater Carolinas contributor, covering NC
I think continued expansion into suburbs and suburbs is essential as the value of commercial properties in downtown areas continues to rise. People are still going to be working from home, and I think a new restaurant has a much better chance of succeeding by being the biggest fish in the smallest pond rather than competing in existing restaurant ecosystems in downtown Raleigh, Durham, etc…

dave infante, editor of Fingers, an independent newsletter on alcohol consumption in America
For God’s sake, someone’s opening a decent grocery store. I don’t know if it’s a good business decision or anything, but I know the sandwich situation in this town is downright pathetic.

Maggie Ward, event and marketing manager of The Local Palace
I predict smaller menus will be the norm as staff shortages don’t seem to fade any time soon. However, this will mean more curated selections with dishes and ingredients specific to the chef’s specialty. Smaller teams that feel fully supported by management and compensated accordingly. Even smaller spaces that feel unique and designed with the cuisine served in mind. All in all, quality over quantity is the philosophy I hope the restaurant industry will rebuild itself into.

Hanna Raskin, editor and publisher of The Food Section
I’m a big fan of restaurants that do one thing and do it well, which has also been the formula for the success of many pop-ups. If more restaurants stopped topping their menus with fried Brussels sprouts and tortured versions of burrata, meals would be better everywhere.

Erin Perkins, editor Eater Carolinas
I think more restaurants should protect their employees more. After seeing outbursts in dining halls over vaccination card and mask mandates, I think it’s time for “the customer is always right” to be over. There were some bad behaviors before the pandemic, but it seems like they’ve only gotten worse.

Stephanie Burnett, Eat Drink Carolines
It’s time to raise prices and eliminate tipping. Diners want to know that restaurant employees work for a living wage.

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Cecil N. Messick