The Future of Restaurants

Restaurants are much more than places where we feed ourselves, soothe our souls, and mark life’s big moments. They are the backbones of our communities. And they are worth fighting for. We hope we can all eat in their dining rooms, together, one day soon.

 What do you miss most about restaurants right now? I miss the anticipation, the hum, the smells, the glow. I miss how restaurants restore me, whether it is tacos at a picnic table after a five-and-a-half-hour flight to LAX or a dozen oysters at the counter of my local after work. Most of all, I miss the hospitality of restaurant people, their generosity.

This spring, I witnessed that big-hearted spirit more than ever, as food industry leaders met the pandemic with acts of heroism: Chefs turned their restaurants into community kitchens; spirits manufacturers distilled hand sanitizer in addition to vodka. Thousands came up with new business plans literally overnight. More recently, as waves of protests against systemic racism and police brutality roiled the nation in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, restaurants stepped up again, throwing their support behind Black Lives Matter through supporting Black-owned businesses, donating to racial justice organizations, and feeding protestors

Yet despite all the scrappy innovation and activism, the state of the nearly $1 trillion restaurant economy—one that makes up an estimated 4% of America’s GDP and employs 15.6 million people—remains unstable. While the dimmer lights slowly turn back on in some states along with new restrictions for dining in, more than 6 million restaurant workers remain unemployed. Some of your favorite places will not reopen.

What happens to them impacts us all. Restaurants are a foundation of the American economy. So, what’s the way forward out of this mess? And what will restaurants look like on the other side? We found hope in the 2020 class of Food & Wine Best New Chefs—ten talents who make some of the sharpest, most forward-thinking, and most satisfying food in America. For 32 years, the accolade has celebrated not only the best cooking of the day, but also the culinary leaders of tomorrow. This year’s class, the first selected by Restaurant Editor Khushbu Shah, is no different. We heard a rallying cry from Best New Chef Tavel Bristol-Joseph, co-owner and executive pastry chef at five Austin restaurants, who sees the challenges facing his generation as an opportunity to lead the industry forward: “I don’t want to adapt to the change,” he told us. “I want to be the change.

Food & Wine is partnering with Southern Smoke Foundation to help raise money for restaurant workers around the country who are in crisis. Please consider making a donation today.  

Let us not waste the lessons that adversity teaches us. Let us come out of this crisis with a new understanding of the true costs of operating the restaurants we miss. Let us show more hospitality to the people who cook for us and the people who serve us. Let us start there.

The future of restaurants will depend on all of us.