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Industry Insiders Talk About Innovative Ideas That Should Continue Into the New Year

Including outdoor dining and takeout

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. What new pivots or innovative ideas have you seen emerge from the events of 2020 that you hope continue into 2021?

Kenneth Andrews, Eater Carolinas contributor, covering SC
I’m just enjoying how the Charleston food scene is really expanding its breadth of options more and more every year. There are few things that a foodie (oh no I said the f-word) loves more than being able to try something they’ve heard of but have never been able to get here. Or even more so something they haven’t even heard of and gets to try for the first time and learn about.

Erin Perkins, editor Eater Carolinas
Let outdoor dining continue. Looking at you Charleston County officials to allow Fast & French to keep its patio.

Jenn Rice, Eater Carolinas contributor, covering NC
Restaurants and bars have gotten super creative and innovative. They’ve streamlined and condensed menus. Side streets have turned into dreamy outdoor extensions of dining rooms. Kingfisher turned Queen Burger. Postmaster turned Gov’t Cheeseburger turned Fine Folk (a short-order kitchen inside Foundation, one of my favorite bars in Raleigh). Alley Twenty Six crushed it with a popup alleyway bar and a bottle shop. The Unscripted popped up igloos, alongside the pool, as socially distant pods. Mateo offered paella to-go, for the first time ever, housed in a keepsake paella pan — inside a pizza box. I think we will continue to see chefs and restaurants and bar owners breathe fresh air into new concepts and pivots.

Mike Ledford, Eater Carolinas photographer
Family style meals to-go. Grab and go meal kits (a la Kwei Fei and Xiao Bao Biscuit). Online cooking classes from local chefs.

Ricky Moore, owner/chef of Saltbox Seafood Joints
Ghost kitchens.

Reimagining the drive thru and walk up service models is necessary.

Remote feeding kiosk will be something that I believe will emerge. Think a modern day Automat.

Also, chefs will continue to repackage what they’re doing, as we’ve seen with the new family style meals and meal kits. We’ll continue to adjust to offering to-go food, and how to serve it/make sure it travels well.

Matthew Lardie, Eater Carolinas contributor, covering NC
Long live the burger!

KJ Kearney, Founder of Black Food Fridays
Long live takeout! The pivot to some restaurants going full takeout only (see Nana’s) or VASTLY improving their takeout capabilities (see Edmund’s Oast Brewing Company) was an unintended benefit of 2020. I hope it continues. I also would love to see more restaurants popping up with outdoor dining. As I mentioned earlier, this may not be something that Downtown establishments can pull off but it can be done in North Charleston, Summerville, Goose Creek, Johns Island, and James Island. I have enjoyed sitting outdoors to eat and if restaurants are built with that idea in mind, they can craft some wonderful dining experiences.

Hanna Raskin, Food writer and critic for the Post & Courier
It’s exceptionally discouraging how few Charleston area restaurants have tried anything other than sticking to the script. Cheers to Kwei Fei’s dim sum kit, I guess.

Eric Ginsburg, Eater Carolinas contributor, covering NC
Forced to ceaselessly innovate in 2020 and faced with an incredibly unpredictable political landscape and ever-changing rules, restaurants showed us just how resilient they are. But this year also revealed some major cracks in how the industry operates that I hope receive deeper attention once the pandemic is behind us.

Barbara Skidmore, Eater Carolinas contributor, covering SC and Savannah
European style dining on sidewalks and closed streets.

Brooks Reitz, Restaurateur (Melfi’s, Little Jack’s Tavern, Leon’s Oyster Shop)
I’d love to see continued encouragement from the city for expanded outdoor dining that has taken place across the city.

D.R.E. James, Eater Carolinas contributor, covering SC
Dave Schuttenberg at Kwei Fei rolling out those dumpling kits.

Dave Schuttenberg, owner/chef at Kwei Fei and Micho
Small and scrappy has had its benefits this year. Having opened Kwei Fei on a limited budget forced us into business decisions when we opened that proved uniquely beneficial when we had to pivot on the outset of the pandemic. We were able to move very quickly into a different model, and not lose much time in doing so. Watching other restaurants hone in on their strengths and really develop alternate revenue streams to help them survive has been amazing. Diversification will be crucial moving forward.

Scott Crawford, chef/owner of Crawford and Son
Delivery technology is rapidly advancing. Crave is a good example of this and something I explored this year. I think we’ll continue to see this evolve and thrive.

Sunny Gerhart, chef/owner of St. Roch Fine Oysters & Bar
I am not sure about any innovative ideas or pivots that may have come out of 2020, but for me, 2020 has put a lot of things into perspective. My vision has sharpened and my bag of tools has gotten much larger. After a year such as this, you must be able to pivot and make moves very quickly. I do not think you can be a one trick pony anymore, you need to be able to provide much more than dine in service for your guests. I truly believe that they are looking for much more. Take out, dine in, pantry, and delivery. I think finding new ways to keep your guests engaged and or entertained in a multitude of ways is extremely important.

Wyatt Dickson, pitmaster/owner of Picnic and Wyatt’s Whole Hog Barbecue
I hope that some of the adjustments to the way restaurant workers are compensated, like built-in service charges, continue once the pandemic is over. This experience has exposed a lot of inequities in this industry that we need to address and I hope that continues.