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Carolinas Food Experts Think About Where the Restaurant Industry Should Go Next

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From livable wages to at-home meal kits

Erin Perkins is the editor of Eater Carolinas.

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 seven 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?

Eric Ginsburg, independent journalist and Eater Carolinas contributor, covering NC
Racial equity, mental health, and living wages need to be lasting priorities, not just passing fads.

Barbara Skidmore, Eater Carolinas contributor, covering SC and Savannah
Smaller seasonal community supported menus.

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

Cele and Lynn Seldon, Seldon Ink
Shorter menus and less-crowded and -noisy.

Kenneth Andrews, Eater Carolinas contributor
I think we’re going to see a ton more ghost kitchens as well as delivery/carryout only places. I just hope they aren’t all big chains like many of them are now and that there is still plenty of room for the locals to shine.

I hope to see more at-home meal kits. Kwei Fei really opened my eyes to how they could be done even better with the kits being accompanied by video instructions as well, was such a perfect idea!

I also think we’ll keep seeing more and more people moving up and off the peninsula as it continues turning into “Charleston, the Theme Park for Rich People™”

Sam Spence, Editor of Charleston City Paper
I’ve loved that even tradition-minded restaurants embraced online ordering and reservation services just out of sheer practicality during distancing periods. I hope it (the tech) stays ... if only so I can walk in and pick up my OG bowl at Jackrabbit Filly pronto.

Jacob Pucci, food and dining reporter for The Fayetteville Observer
I think the fact that the “labor shortage” has continued long after the expanded unemployment benefits ended should be proof that the problem was always in the restaurants themselves. Many folks left the restaurant industry during the pandemic and aren’t coming back. If the industry is going to rebuild, restaurant owners are going to need to invest more in their employees and make working in the restaurant industry appealing again.

Jenn Rice, freelance writer and Eater Carolinas contributor, covering NC
I’d like to see it go back to chefs just cooking good food for their communities. I know it’s not that simple but I feel like if you’re still riding this wave that you’re truly here because you want to be in the industry and make a difference by way of cooking.

Matt Lardie, freelance writer and Eater Carolinas contributor, covering NC
I think continued expansion in the suburbs and exurbs is key as commercial property values in downtown cores continue to rise. People are still going to be working from home, and I think a new restaurant has a much better chance of success being the bigger fish in the smaller pond rather than competing in existing dining ecosystems in downtown Raleigh, Durham, etc.

Dave Infante, editor of Fingers, an independent newsletter about drinking in America
For the love of god, somebody open a decent deli. I don’t know if it’s a good business decision or anything, but I do know that the sandwich situation in this city is downright pathetic.

Maggie Ward, events and marketing manager of The Local Palate
I predict smaller menus will be the norm as staff shortages don’t seem to be waning anytime 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. Overall, quality over quantity is the ethos in which I hope the restaurant industry rebuilds.

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

Erin Perkins, editor Eater Carolinas
I think more restaurants should protect their employees more. After seeing outbursts in dining rooms over vaccine card and mask mandates, I think it’s time that “the customer is always right” is over. There was bad behavior before the pandemic, but it only seems to have gotten worse.

Stephanie Burnette, Eat Drink Carolinas
It’s time to raise prices and eliminate tipping. Diners want to know that restaurant employees are working for a living wage.