That’s how British food critic Jay Rayner of the Guardian referred to the restaurant business as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic of last year….that’s going to be hanging around at least through the first half of this year.
Well put, Jay Rayner.
But I hope that I’m not being pollyannish when I say, “There are green-shoots appearing out there.” The greenest is, of course, the COVID-19 vaccine (if we can ever get our act together on distribution and jab one hell of a lot more folks).
As our industry slowly rises from the ashes, there are some new protocols in place that will most likely be with us for a long time, if not forever. Among them: Sanitize, sanitize, sanitize…masks…touchless transactions…curbside pickup and delivery…social distancing…and food safety.
Regarding eating habits and trends, what do we see as we look back on 2020?
Well, for one, eating at home may become the restaurant industry’s biggest competition. And quick service and fast casual restaurant concepts enjoyed surprising success.
FRIED CHICKEN SANDWICHES at the likes of Mc DONALD’S, SHAKE SHACK and CHICK-FIL-A rose over 300% over 2019. And while the worst fried chicken sandwich that I ever ate was wonderful, my favorite last year was the crunchy NASHVILLE HOT CHICKEN SANDWICH, loaded up with paprika, cayenne pepper and crunchy dill pickles.
AVOCADO TOAST exploded with a vengeance, with iterations involving smoked salmon, goat cheese and both scrambled and poached eggs.
BURITTOS, mainly from CHIPOTLE, surged…primarily from take-out.
And PLANT BASED BURGERS detonated across the country. I personally saw that happen close to home, where – when they were open – SALUT and GOOD EARTH set records with IMPOSSIBLE BURGER sales.
LIQUOR STORE sales erupted as people made stock-up trips and drank more at home…maybe a lot more.
And we all felt the run for groceries as most all of us (including me) raided supermarket shelves for provisions when they were available (Does that make me a bad person?)
Here’s something else……
HOME COOKING revived. But with the economic stress present in all too many households, it’s been reported that when we’re feeling down, we seek out high-calorie COMFORT FOODS – dishes that speak not just to appetite but to memory
In my growing-up years, everything was home cooked…MEATLOAF…CHICKEN POT PIE…PB and J…PUMPKIN PIE and POTATO CHIPS with a dip of dry Lipton onion soup mixed with sour cream.
Even restaurants saw an uptick in nostalgic comfort foods: ROASTED CHICKEN and FRIES…DAUBE (French beef stew)…CURRIES…SIMPLE SPAGHETTI
You have to wonder, what does it all mean for future dining trends?
Predicting is a dubious exercise. 2021 is hard for me to read. But here are some thoughts………
There seems to be several separate viewpoints – all to some degree, in conflict with one another. Try to weave these observations together and make some sense of it all.
1. HOME COOKING WILL REMAIN POPULAR……break out that BREAD MACHINE.
2. SIMPLER, SOUL SEARCHING and COMFORTING, COZY RESTAURANT OFFERINGS……(can NUTRISYSTEM and Marie Osmond be far behind ?).
3. After months of a sedentary lifestyle, will people yearn for HEALTHIER, MORE NUTRITIOUS CHOICES ON MENUS.
4. Although not as prevalent, escape will be a theme…… FANCY, PAMPERED, EXPENSIVE, INDULGENT and EXCLUSIVE………HMMMMM ???
5. Will the merging of science and food – i.e. MICRO-GASTRONOMY restaurants – survive? Already several MICHELIN-STARRED spots around the planet have flipped the switch from $300 tasting menus to HOMESTYLE FOOD and BURGERS.
6. And what about TWEEZER FOOD and MANICURED COOKING? I just don’t know. I’m pulling for them.
7. I also do not believe that 2021 will be a year of FRIVOLOUS FOOD. PINEAPPLE PIZZA will not replace a PERFECTLY STRAIGHT FORWARD, CRISPY CHARRED, THIN-CRUSTED MARGHERITA PIZZA. Nor will BIZAARE and SILLY GARNISHED BURGERS edge out the JUCY LUCY’S of the WORLD.
One thing that I do know is WHAT WE ARE GOING TO DO AT PARASOLE…….
And that is this…….
Years ago, on a SWELTERING HOT, 95 degree summer day, I pulled up in back of a Chinese restaurant here in Minneapolis and observed a cook cleaning shrimp on the white-hot hood of his car……NOT GOOD. NOT SAFE. NOT GONNA FLY.
NO, people are going to want to FEEL SECURE in restaurants that they KNOW and TRUST IN THEIR SAFE FOOD HANDLING.
NO, people are going to just want to gather and socialize with dear friends and family while FEELING SAFE. YES, FEELING VERY SAFE.
NO, I think there will be AN APPRECIATION OF THINGS DONE WELL…REALLY WELL….. just like I will cherish the comfort and simplicity of a YUMMY MELTY GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICH and a perfect bowl of STEAMING TOMATO SOUP.
NO, as our restaurants emerge, not a word on our menus will surprise you. We’ll do our level best to ensure that each of our restaurants will be A PLACE WHERE WRONG DOESN’T HAPPEN…..PLACES WITH LESS SILLY CHAT….”Is the Milady still working on her salmon?”
NO, our joints will be a place to WOLF-DOWN BOTTLES OF CABERNET, WITH FRIENDS, as if there’s no school tomorrow.
NO, when we dine out, we want it to be MEMORABLE. Imagine the joy of the LUXURIOUS SIMPLICITY of a MANNY’S DRY-AGED, THICK, TWO-FISTED DEEPLY-CHARRED PORTERHOUSE STEAK, seared at 1800 degrees, blistering hot and just off the grill along with a FLINTSTONE-SIZED PLATTER of CRISPY BUTTER-FRIED HASH BROWNS .
And once you take a bite, then you will know that EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE OK AGAIN, AFTER ALL.
And you will also LEARN WHY MANNY’S STEAKS MAKE EVEN BUTCHERS HORNY.