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Future of Dining Panel Reveals San Francisco Chefs' Biggest Gripes, Hopes

Eater teamed up with the Golden Gate Restaurant Association to explore San Francisco's dining future.

From left to right: Nancy Oakes, Craig Stoll, Jen Pelka, David Barzelay and Carolyn Alburger.
From left to right: Nancy Oakes, Craig Stoll, Jen Pelka, David Barzelay and Carolyn Alburger.
Stefanie Tuder

When you get Nancy Oakes (Boulevard, Prospect), Craig Stoll (Delfina, Locanda), David Barzelay (Lazy Bear) and Jen Pelka (Din) talking about the future of dining in San Francisco, there are bound to be some serious opinions flying around. The four culinary superstars sat down last night at The Battery with Eater’s Carolyn Alburger moderating a discussion on where our city’s dining scene is heading. Topics touched included operating costs, the shortage of cooks, abolishing tips, ingredient sourcing, apps and more, with some of the sold-out audience members jumping in to offer insights and opinions. Here are the top eight quotes from the evening:

On operating costs:

“The rent world is not a level playing field. At Boulevard we pay a big, hefty percentage rate. The landlords get a seven percent rent [of our income], there’s a one percent city tax and two percent credit card fees. So I'm giving away 10 percent before you even sit down. And that’s before you broke a wine glass.” —Nancy Oakes

On raising prices:

“There's an elasticity of what people spend. We recently raised prices about 12 to 15 percent, but our check averages increased two to three percent. People get used to coming to your restaurant, and they order less.” —Craig Stoll

On the shortage of cooks:

“Housing is the root of all of it. That's why the cooks are leaving. They can't possibly live here when they spend 60 percent of income on rent.” —Nancy Oakes

“We thought seriously about subsidized housing for cooks. We need career cooks, not someone who's cooking for a year after college slumming it. We want people dedicated to craft, and housing themselves in the Mission district is not feasible. So we looked at subsidized housing for cooks, and it seemed great until we considered what would it be like to be the landlord of a whole bunch of cooks. They'd need a parole officer.” —David Barzelay

On potentially tipping the kitchen:

“Right now the kitchen is fashionable, so people would leave tips [if that were an option]. But what about leaving tips for hostesses or the dishwasher because the plate is really clean. Where does it end? Wouldn't it be better to go the opposite way [and abolish tips]?” —David Barzelay

“Isn't it weird that we're relying on diners to pay our staff’s wages? Why don't we just pay them a living wage and end of story?” —Craig Stoll

On the future of fine dining:

“I think diners’ expectations are changing, and some troupes of fine dining are not valued so much by diners. Maybe they want really high end food but don't care if there are two tablecloths. Right now San Francisco is hot in the culinary world, and we have much more casual places than New York does. What adds value to the dining experience — is it multiple tablecloths or the interaction experience?” —David Barzelay

On apps:

“I've worked at countless apps, and I think the ones that will stick around are ones that are true partners with restaurants. If it’s not financially viable or the people aren’t great to work with, restaurants won't partner and consumers won't be interested. Tech companies run by young folks need to remember that restaurants are their bread and butter, and they need to be good partners.” —Jen Pelka