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The Top Complaints About Dining Out in SF

Take out your tiny violins

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Welcome to Year in Eater 2016, Eater’s annual ritual of eulogizing the past 12 months through input from the city’s top food writers. For 2016’s final week, we’ll be posting questions daily about the Bay Area’s restaurant scene in the past year, with answers from those who know it best. Read on to find out: What was your biggest dining grievance of 2016?


Ellen Fort, Eater SF editor

Fast casual, while predictably convenient, leaves something to be desired. Until the complicated issues behind the labor shortage can be resolved, however, it’s going to be robots and counter service that keep the doors open.

Stefanie Tuder, Eater SF senior editor

That eating anywhere outside of SF was consistently more fun than eating within it. I know that’s largely due to the incredible financial risk facing restaurateurs here, but I don’t think that means restaurants have to lose their sense of whimsy and fun. See: Baroo in Los Angeles, Olmsted in NYC. We have such outstanding talent and product here, so I wish that could be put to use in more exciting, wacky ways sometimes, outside the bounds of Californian fusion.

Anna Roth, Eater contributor

We did have some terrific openings in SF this year, but they were few and far between — it felt like a lot of restauranteurs were playing it safe and opening up places that were just like everywhere else. Not that I blame them for avoiding risks in this climate. But I just can’t summon up much of a sense of discovery and wonder about the latest fast-casual fried chicken sandwich, you know?

Rebecca Flint Marx, San Francisco magazine food editor

The proposed appointment of Carl’s Jr. CEO and noted workers’ rights opponent Andy Puzder as this country’s Secretary of Labor.

Paolo Lucchesi, The Chronicle food editor

Restaurants that raised their prices because tip was included, and then, months later, shifted to a traditional tipping model (tip no longer included) but still kept the same prices. Don’t get me wrong: Restaurants can and should charge whatever they want/can, and that’s cool, but this felt a little strange, intentionally or not. Runner-up: “Can I explain the menu to you?”

Marcia Gagliardi, Tablehopper

Overpriced omakase, where the chef blowtorches at least a quarter of the exquisite nigiri you’re overpaying for. Please stop it.

The Dapper Diner, local blogger

The amount of expensive omakase spots opening this year, the “fast casual” trend, restaurant lingerers (you know, the diners who think they own the table for the night, so they sit at the table talking 30 minutes after paying the bill and screw up the reservation queue), spots that still only seat your full party even if 75 percent of the party is there, and deviled eggs still popping up on new menus.

Pete Kane, SF Weekly food critic

Unimaginative low-ABV cocktails. I know full liquor licenses don’t grow on trees, but there’s still room to have fun and play with mixers, garnishes, presentation, et cetera. And they don’t need to be $12, either.

Jay Barmann, SFist editor

I’ve harped on the lack of cheap glasses of wine in the past, and that remains the case with few exceptions. But rather than bemoan how expensive everything is, which we all know is largely the fault of the whole San Francisco enterprise, I guess I’ll have to say this year it was poor service. If you’re forced to hire really green servers and bus people, then invest more time in training them. Because when you’re paying upwards of $60 a person for a weeknight meal, shoddy or thoughtless service just feels like a slap in the face.

Andrew Dalton, Eater contributor

Everything cost more than it should have.

Carolyn Alburger, Eater cities director

That “hipster” has become an okay word to use to describe a restaurant.

Jonathan Kauffman, The Chronicle food reporter

1. That Neighbor Bakehouse is too far from my home and office and that it has no parking out front.
2. That I only ate at Taqueria El Paisa@.com for the first time last week.
3. Current beef: New, pricey, ultra-Californian restaurants that can’t bother, in 2016, to include enough vegetarian dishes for my partner to make up a light meal.

Trevor Felch, Zagat SF editor

This is a little vague but it’s what I call the two-way lack of trust circuit between the industry and diners. Yelp, social media, blogs, we food media websites are all part of it. Basically, diners all think that they’re Michael Bauer (guess what, you’re not). The restaurants and bars are now skeptical of diners because they feel that they’re dining and drinking to rate them, not to have a good time. So the restaurant feels the diner is out to get them, while the diner thinks the restaurant is giving them attitude because you’re not actually a big deal. So, nobody trusts each other. Then everybody goes to Instagram and Yelp to chronicle this relationship and nothing good comes out of it.

We’re a great restaurant city and that by default means a competitive one. But, a circle of no trust has emerged, and it’s disheartening. There are so many great chefs and restaurateurs and so many wonderful diners. The “everybody as a critic” game has gone too far, and it’s affecting everyone because restaurants are feeling pressured to act in a stiffer, hard-edged way. I guess, we’re becoming New York? I hope not because outside of Charlie Bird and Wildair, there is nothing I tried in NYC that matches what we’ve got going on here.

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