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These Are the Food and Drink Innovations We Should Keep When the Pandemic is ‘Over’

Please don’t take to-go negronis away

Takeout sushi from Yubu Patricia Chang

The coronavirus crisis has devastated the restaurant industry, putting the lowest paid workers at the highest health risks, and threatening to close half of the food businesses in this city. In response, chefs and restaurants got creative than ever with their menus and offerings, and officials eased policies to help with the burden. After all, this is San Francisco, where diners show up for their favorite neighborhood spots in unexpected ways, and when it comes to good food, we still have a lot to be grateful for.

Eater SF reached out to half a dozen chefs, owners, writers, and critics, to see what pandemic-era changes they’ve appreciated during this strange time. Here are a few of the innovations they hope will stick around, long after the pandemic is “over.”

Keep the takeout cocktails coming

Why not have drinks to go? We have liquor stores, what’s the difference? I want to make sure people stay safe, but if you want restaurants to stick around, takeout cocktails make it great for customers who want to go home and relax. — April Spears, chef and owner of Auntie April’s and Cafe Envy

I second the to-go cocktails! This has been a game changer for my weekends, though my bank account might not agree —though restaurants and bars have chopped prices on booze, those deli quarts of negroni still add up. Maybe that’s good, though: alcohol sales often provide the highest profit margins for restaurants, so by guzzling those cocktails down and destroying my liver, I’m helping my local places’ bottom lines. What’s life if not a series of trade-offs? — Eve Batey, news editor of Eater SF

Finding comfort in comfort foods

I’ve loved the pivot to restaurants offering easily reheatable comfort foods for takeout — trays of take-and-bake lasagna or jollof rice or big tubs of Japanese curry. These are stressful times, so when I sit down at the dinner table, or plop down in front of the TV for a late-night snack, I’m usually just craving something that’s going to make me feel warm and safe. I think chefs are aware of this, and it’s great that so many places are stepping up to fill this need. — Luke Tsai, food editor of Eater SF

Discovering creativity in meal kits

We thought [DIY dumplings] would be a way to have fun with the family during shelter in place. We heard from many customers who miss “yum cha” or the dim sum brunch, so we wanted to find a way for everyone to enjoy fresh dim sum at home…. But now, even though some diners are eager to dine out, we believe meal kits are going to stay for the foreseeable future. We had seen frozen dim sum sales drop over the past two weeks as outdoor dining started, but we are still putting in more effort to develop those, as a safe channel to generate income. — Dennis Leung, general manager of Palette Tea House

I’ve been loving some of the meal kits and prepared foods that restaurants have been offering. My favorite is Soba Ichi’s hand-cut soba noodles, packaged for two and ready to make at home. They’re such a good deal and really easy to make. — Sarah Han, senior food editor at Berkeleyside

Raiding retail shops for pantry staples

I’ve been loving the shift into retail. Getting access to the pantry staples that restaurant kitchens cook with themselves feels incredibly special — and a way to stay connected to the restaurants we love while cooking at home. I’ve been squirreling away Donato Enoteca’s housemade nduja, Zareen’s frozen sesame naan, Maum’s fresh kimchi, and a jar of incredibly vibrant mala sauce that came with a Noodle in a Haystack ramen kit. — Elena Kadvany, food reporter at Palo Alto Weekly

More room to breathe between tables

I’m enjoying the open spacing and how much quieter and more peaceful social distancing makes the dining area. However, most restaurants can’t subsist on half the seats …. For Zazie to make a profit at half capacity with the same costs, we’d have to sell a plate of pancakes for $30, and I’m not sure people are going to go for that. — Jennifer Bennett, co-owner of Zazie

More fresh air with with outdoor options

Especially if you have a smaller space, outdoor seating opens it up for potentially more customers. And people appreciate the option to dine outside, and do enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. — April Spears, chef and owner of Auntie April’s and Cafe Envy

I love the idea of making outdoor dining affordable for restaurants. The prior system, in which the Department of Public Works charged restaurants thousands per year to allow a couple of tables and chairs, seemed like extortion. You know who has plenty of money for outdoor tables and chairs? Big chains, so if that’s who you want to dominate outdoor dining, keep things as-is. City officials are dropping a lot of these nickel-and-dime permitting fees during the pandemic. Let’s help small businesses now, and drop them forever. — Eve Batey, news editor of Eater SF

Restaurants showing each other the love

I’m also encouraged by examples of positive cross-pollination. Businesses are sharing space and promoting each other to stay afloat, like the Love for Butter pop-up baking out of Zola French restaurant in Palo Alto; Tōno Coffee Project finding a new home at Salvaje natural wine bar in Palo Alto; and the Milk Pail Market hosting a drive-through market at Cafe Zoe in Menlo Park. — Elena Kadvany, food reporter at Palo Alto Weekly

Diners supporting neighborhood spots

I’ve been amazed to see how many friends and readers are really putting in the thought and effort to support their favorite neighborhood spots. It feels like diners are finally waking up to the villainies of delivery apps. They’re actively refusing to give money to big chains. And they’re coming through for local restaurants! By ordering takeout, picking up in person, and tipping big, not to mention donating funds and rocking merch. I wish our restaurants weren’t hurting so badly. But I hope we keep supporting them this way long after. — Becky Duffett, reporter for Eater SF

Zazie

941 Cole Street, , CA 94117 (415) 564-5332 Visit Website

Auntie April's Chicken, Waffles, & Soul Food Restaurant

4618 3rd Street, , CA 94124 (415) 643-4983 Visit Website

Cafe Envy

1701 Yosemite Avenue, , CA 94124 (415) 800-7394 Visit Website

Palette Tea House

900 North Point Street, , CA 94109 (415) 347-8888 Visit Website

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