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Predictions for Restaurant Rebuilding in 2021

Writers, chefs, and restaurateurs take a guess

Erin Perkins is the editor of Eater Carolinas, covering the food and restaurant scene across North and South Carolina.

In keeping with Eater tradition, our closeout of the year is a survey of friends, industry types, and bloggers. To kick it off in the Carolinas, Eater asked the group eight questions, ranging from the restaurants they frequented for takeout to the saddest surprises of the year. Responses 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?

D.R.E. James, Eater Carolinas contributor, covering SC
I wish I had a crystal ball to answer this, but things are so uncertain now.

Kenneth Andrews, Eater Carolinas contributor, covering SC
I see a lot of fresh starts in the future and people experimenting with scale and scope. I think people like Michael Shemtov can really be instrumental in helping that. So many people have come up in the area either through Workshop or through popups at The Daily and Butcher & Bee. I will definitely be watching them closely next year starting very soon with the Katsubō popups starting in January.

Jenn Rice, Eater Carolinas contributor, covering NC
Khushbu Shah’s most recent article for Food & Wine, “The Customer is Not Always Right,” has been on my mind as I think about the industry and what it might look like in 2021. Too many expectations have been put on restaurants and industry workers. I noticed a few restaurants make the decision to close over the holidays and give their teams much-needed time off. It’s been a rough year and I would like to see it rebuild with intention and more focus on mental health (“Keeping Mental Health on the Front Burner” is a solid read from a fellow journalist). It’s a luxury to dine-out, even more so right now, but flip it around and the industry is massively stressed out and working in overdrive to try to save restaurants and bars.

Mike Ledford, Eater Carolinas photographer
Walk-up window pickup options seem like a no-brainer, and it would lend to the charm of the city. One Broad, Muse, and Sabatino’s come to mind. Working with the city to secure more outdoor dining space, or working with other restaurants nearby to create a shared space. Outdoor dining needs to stick around.

Matthew Lardie, Eater Carolinas contributor, covering NC
Restaurants need loyalty — both in terms of employees and customers. Invest in your employees and connect with your community and you will survive.

KJ Kearney, Founder of Black Food Fridays
INVEST IN DIVERSITY. Full stop. Will restaurants come back? Yes! Will weddings be hosted here again? Absolutely. But it can’t just be a bunch of white dudes with deep pockets deciding what the culinary scene looks like. People are coming to the Charleston Metro Area for food and going Downtown to eat isn’t feasible for all entrepreneurs (rent, parking, unreliable public transit). Plus the more diverse the food offerings, the better our area’s reputation as a food town will be. I think Summerville is doing a great job developing their restaurant scene. But I would love to see Goose Creek and North Charleston step their food game up as well. I also think that the restaurant industry should stick their nose into this Lowcountry Rapid Transit bus line situation. It’s a great way to ensure their employees have a reliable way to and from work but, also, tourists could use the line as well. It’s a win-win for everyone really but it could have a huge impact on the restaurant industry.

Hanna Raskin, Food writer and critic for the Post & Courier
That presupposes that the industry is steering the ship, rather than trapped in a sinking lifeboat, bailing water as fast as it can. Of course, I share everyone’s hopes for more equitable workplaces, where people are paid fairly and treated respectfully, but it doesn’t look like the industry is headed in that direction.

Eric Ginsburg, Eater Carolinas contributor, covering NC
I’d like to see more focus on the wellbeing of service workers and creating safe and inclusive environments that more proactively address the toxicity in kitchens, face sexual harassment head on, and pay people a living wage.

Barbara Skidmore, Eater Carolinas contributor, covering SC and Savannah
Sleeker, lower overhead, more carry out options.

Brooks Reitz, Restaurateur (Melfi’s, Little Jack’s Tavern, Leon’s Oyster Shop)
Hard to address the nuances of my answer in this format.

Dave Schuttenberg, owner/chef at Kwei Fei and Micho
I personally would like to see independent restaurants band together to eschew the current third party delivery model that is accepted as an inevitability in the business. There has to be a better way than the current model. Customers also need to realize that their convenient delivery system comes at a price for independent operators.

Scott Crawford, chef/owner of Crawford and Son
The restaurant industry as an industry needs to challenge all the reasons why its impossible for us to pay our people fairly and pay for their insurance, beginning with the ridiculous real estate deals that have become status quo. Then we need to challenge the idea that food should be cheap. So many people have been riding on the backs of restaurants. And few may realize, even pre-pandemic, we were lucky to turn a 10% profit. Let’s get some of that money back into the business so we can do the right thing with it.

Ricky Moore, owner/chef of Saltbox Seafood Joints
We need to think about how to meet the consumer and still maintain who we are as restaurant people. We will adapt!

Restauranteurs and chefs are going to have to rely on additional skills to stay viable, in addition to cooking a delicious plate of food. Such as rethinking the pathway on how to get your food from the kitchen to the customer in innovative ways ie crafting menus that are engineered for speed and maintaining its wholesomeness during travel.