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Bay Area Food Insiders Hope These Pandemic-Related Changes Continue After the Pandemic Ends

Good luck un-ringing the takeout cocktail bell

Can San Francisco keep outdoor dining going, even after the crisis ends?
Patricia Chang

We asked a group of local writers, restaurant industry voices, and other assorted, and uniformly brilliant, friends of Eater SF to weigh in on this past year in food (and what a year it was). We’ll share their answers to this, the annual “Year in Eater” survey, over the course of several articles over the next two weeks. Today, they’re sharing their thoughts pandemic-related changes they hope will continue even after the current crisis ends.

This year has been brutal for everyone, but it has in no way been brutal in equal measure. If you weren’t paying attention before, it strikes me as nearly impossible to ignore the gross inequities in this country, with the restaurant industry (and food production at large) being a particularly heightened microcosm of these divides. I hope we actually internalize these truths and work to create systems in which good treatment and fair pay is the norm, not the exception. I’d like to see far more robust support networks for undocumented workers. And can we stop treating universal healthcare like it’s some insane Cold War-era movie villain plot already and behave like the first-world country we’re purported to be?! — San Francisco food writer Lauren Sloss

I hope everyone stays really angry at delivery apps, continues to cap their fees, and holds them accountable for piratically and parasitically profiting off of a dying restaurant industry right now. And obviously takeout cocktails. We can’t go back to life without takeout cocktails. — Eater SF reporter Becky Duffett

It seems to me that the liberalization of liquor sales has now demonstrated that restaurants can offer wine, beer, and cocktails to-go and the world won’t collapse into drunken chaos. This ought to provide the empirical foundation for thoughtful, permanent liberalization going forward. — East Bay-based novelist Robin Sloan, the author of (among others) Sourdough and The Strange Case of the New Golden Gate

Did anyone NOT answer all of the parklets? — SF food writer Daisy Barringer

Caring about the wellbeing of our workers and their health. This is something that has been long over looked in this industry and it needs to change. — Chef, activist, and author Preeti Mistry

Our business, Churn has really benefited from the online pre-order trend. It forced us to get up to date with technology and made our process more efficient. Also, very specific to our business, I was not such a fan of ice cream tastings. What other food do you know where it’s ok to taste something before you buy? I’m glad we’ve moved away from that. It wasn’t very sanitary. — San Francisco restauranteur Rica Sunga-Kwan, the owner of Portola District ice cream shop Churn Urban Creamery

The amount of creativity and deliciousness being put out by the various (quasi-legal) Instagram-based pop-ups and meal delivery services has been astounding, and I’d hate to see health departments cracking down on them once the circumstances are deemed less desperate. Let the pop-ups live! — Eater SF food editor Luke Tsai

Though restaurants have always been places for community, people stepped up in greater and more consistent ways this year — including around discussions of equity. I hope this sort of engagement for how we all contribute to greater systemic ills continues, hopefully in nuanced, thoughtful ways. — SF Chronicle senior features editor (food, travel and magazines) Serena Dai

I’m going to restrain myself to three things I most desperately hope to keep: Outdoor dining, especially on closed streets and our widest sidewalks; booze to-go; and the momentum behind an end to the code of silence that, for far too long, has normalized oppression and abuse of restaurant workers. — Eater SF editor Eve Batey

That the ABC keeps its relaxed regulations post-pandemic. The old rules are too stringent. Also, the pandemic has made already creative chefs even more imaginative. Their pop-up partnerships with farms and wineries (Avery at the Farm, Quince at Fresh Run Farm or Quince at Hudson Ranch and SingleThread at Kistler) would not have been necessary nor the norm, had it not been for COVID restrictions. These synergistic collaborations feel intuitive and have resulted in dynamic menus and wine pairings. — San Francisco food writer Leilani Marie Labong

I’ve been blown away by the creative spirit that’s proliferated in the industry during the pandemic. So many restaurant owners and chefs are trying new things, whether it be experimenting with novel dishes or even starting a new business direction. But I want to give a particular shout-out to Ippuku general manager Masa Sugawara, the mastermind and star of Ippuku’s brilliant quarantine Instagram posts. I really hope he continues to make these after all of this is over. — Berkeleyside Nosh editor Sarah Han

Obviously I hope for a better restaurant industry in every sense of the word, but I’ll focus on the consumer side. I think that this crisis has made the mainstream diner more conscious than ever about the restaurant industry — both its unique cultural value to a city as well as the challenges it faces. I hope that awareness continues. — Resy editorial director (and Eater SF’s founding editor) Paolo Lucchesi

Smaller, more intimate meals for tasting menu concepts. — Author, activist, chef, and Sankofa pop-up founder Selasie Dotse

Closing down part of 18th Street in the Castro and having all the bars and restaurants set up tables in the street made it feel like a low-key street fair every weekend — even if this didn’t always seem socially-distant-appropriate. I don’t think anyone except riders of the 33 bus (RIP?) would be upset if this continued. And given how crowded and nutty it always was at Trick Dog, I’d be pretty happy if they kept doing to-go Quik Dogs and bottled cocktails. — SFist editor Jay Barmann