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Food Writers Share Their Biggest Grievances of 2016

Here’s what restaurant experts didn’t like about NYC dining this year

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As is the tradition at Eater, our closeout of the year is a survey of friends, writers, and experts. This year, we asked the group eight questions running the gamut from meal of the year to top restaurant newcomers. Their answers will appear throughout the week. Responses are related in no particular order; all are cut, pasted, and (mostly) unedited herein. We've heard about the top standbys, hot newcomers, best dining neighborhoods, words of the year, and surprises. Now it's time for the airing of grievances. Please add your own in the comments.

What is your biggest dining grievance of 2016?

Amanda Kludt, Eater editor-in-chief: I was disappointed that only a handful of restaurants outside the Danny Meyer empire were able to enact or keep a no-tipping policy due to financial pressures the maintain the status quo. There's no easy solution until diners are ready to pay more for their food, but I'm hopeful more progressive and creative operators will step up this year and find a way to make it happen.

Ryan Sutton, Eater critic/data lead: The over-saturation of the oligarch sushi market. You can walk into pretty much any $700 for two sushi spot with a few day’s notice, but if you want ambitious, sub-$100 omakase sushi, you better make your Tanoshi reservations well in advance or spend like ten hours in line at Sugarfish. The raw fish operators want to cater to the ultra-elite, but the real demand is among people with fewer dollars to spend.

Matt Rodbard, TASTE editor-in-chief/Koreatown co-author: More and more instances of cultural ignorance and insensitivity within the industry. Regarding social media, think before you post that super hilarious comment or photo on Twitter or Instagram. But also, some should think before launching that pop-up or new concept that might "bend or blend a traditional food culture" in a "new" or "updated" or "elevated" way. Does everything need elevating and updating? Not really. The world is a complicated place. Slow down. Read some things. Talk to some people. Write it out on a piece of paper and say it out loud. Does it all still sound OK to you? Great, then open your restaurant or pop-up. Tweet that tweet. Post that pic.

Helen Rosner, Eater executive editor: At more than one restaurant, on more than one occasion, the ends of my hair (not that long!) were gently singed by scented candles that unthinking staffers had decided to position on the back of the toilet. I am baffled by literally everything about this, including that I didn't learn from my first incident and somehow let it happen twice.

Devra Ferst, senior editor at Tasting Table: Enough with the $26 cacio e pepe, chefs. You're better than that.

Daniela Galarza, Eater news editor: Bad service at service-included restaurants.

Foster Kamer, Mashable managing editor: Bitch all you want about the delivery economy, or the rise of fine dining, or this year's Enough With Backless Chairs, or whatever it is, but the reality is that almost any grievance about the Way We Eat in 2016—in our restaurants, or our homes, wherever we are—right now just feels stupid. Like literally everything else that can affect your life in some way on a daily basis, at the end of 2016, eating's got bigger problems ahead. America elected to its highest office a teetotaler reality star who orders their steak well-done; whose own foray into owning restaurants accounts for some of the most inedible, piss-poor, fuckshit crass excuses for food ever served in New York City; and who either actually thinks a taco salad is a genuine way to celebrate Cinco De Mayo or who doesn't care about how offensively stupid (to say nothing of offensive) presenting that premise actually is. Besides, you know, all the other stuff. But truly: We've made incredible progress over the last eight years with the way we think about food, and public health, and its role in our lives. Public policy has been forcing some of the biggest and most powerful entities in food to answer questions they've never had to answer before that's driven that change, to say nothing of a First Lady who made a healthier America part of her core agenda, and who rubbed elbows with the likes of Dan Barber (a guy who made the hottest pop-up in New York using discarded kitchen scraps). I pray that progress isn't dismantled, and that the most cynical parties representing the most insidious interests involving the way we eat aren't given a chance to thrive over the next four years. You should, too.

Bret Thorn, NRN senior food & beverage editor: Can you please not make me sit on uncomfortable wooden benches anymore?

Robert Sietsema, Eater senior critic: Declining levels of hospitality and service along with increasing prices.

Kat Odell, author of Day Drinking: Betony’s imminent (and heartbreaking) shutter.

Marian Bull, food writer: Uncle Boons is still too loud.

Carnegie Deli Bess Adler

Jordana Rothman, restaurant editor at Food & Wine: That I had to say goodbye to Carnegie Deli in the same year as David Bowie, Prince and Leonard Cohen. You too Booker & Dax.

Sonia Chopra, Eater managing editor: A lot of places promised to be good at vegetables but really fell flat. Also restaurants still have not managed to make useful websites. Put your hours, address, and phone number/reservation system on the front page please. And put prices on your damn menu.

Joe DiStefano, Chopsticks + Marrow blogger/food tour guide: Definitely the closure of Betony, though trying Korean fermented skate and the truly execrable cheeseburger at Jackson Hole aren’t far behind.

Melissa McCart, Eater NY editor: The myth of organic/local on lots of menus.

Lockhart Steele, Eater co-founder/Vox Media editorial director: Noise.

Laurie Woolever, food writer/Appetites co-author: This is sort of anticipatory, but I am aggrieved by the fact that Andrew Puzder, fast food CEO and enemy of restaurant labor reform, is the incoming labor secretary. And I'm frustrated, on behalf of owners who want to do right by their employees, and on behalf of hard-working restaurant workers, that gratuity-included dining hasn't been a slam dunk.

On a less political note, I'm annoyed by front of house staff that answer a customer's "thank you" with "not a problem." Who ever said it was? Also cash-only places, especially when they're crazy expensive, no-reservations policies, places that refuse to seat incomplete parties but offer no space for a diner to even stand while waiting for their companions, and places that charge $15 or more for a cocktail or glass of wine, but haven't figured out how to transfer the bar check to the table.

Charlotte Druckman, food writer/cookbook author: Too many small, neighborhood stalwarts closing... oh, and By Chloe is still here. So is Sadelle's, and Brooklyn. BROOKLYN IS STILL HERE. A lot of tragically-named places too. Oh, okay, know what else? The same people keep opening restaurants, and those restaurants seem derivative and boringly similar (to the existing establishments their proprietors own, and to each other). It's like the rich-get-richer-and-the-poor get-poorer story played out in the restaurant industry. While I'm here, can I put in a request for some truly excellent Thai food to come to a location near me? I'm missing it.

Matt Buchanan, Eater features editor: The militance of not seating even barely incomplete parties — "Sorry, we can't seat the five people in your party of six in our mostly empty restaurant until the sixth person arrives" — continues to be the single most annoying move that restaurants make, especially at places that mostly traffic in small or shared plates. Let us start spending money, please.

Patty Diez, Eater NY associate editor: ​​All. the. shutters.

Serena Dai, Eater NY news editor: Hosts asking me whether or not I have a reservation when I ask for a table, and then quoting me a three hour wait when I say I don’t. Look, if I have a reservation, I will straight up tell you that I have a reservation. I will not stutter, I will not blink. If you do not have any tables right now, just say so.

Nick Solares, Eater NY restaurant editor: All the avocado toast.

Greg Morabito, Eater Upsell co-host: My grievance is tied to a very positive thing, actually.

I think the collective tastes of NYC restaurant-goers changed a lot over the last few years. The attention, from both diners and the press, shifted away from the previously untouchable old guard culinary dads to a new generation whose stars were virtually unknown three years ago. I’m specifically thinking of people like Angie Mar, Liz Johnson, Ann Redding & Matt Danzer, Greg Baxtrom, Angela Dimayuga, Deuki Hong, Matt & Emily Hyland, and J.J. Johnson. None of these people were on Top Chef. None of them were on Top Chef Masters, as contestants or judges. And none of them worked in the great La and Le restaurants of the 80s and 90s. But they’re all rock stars. And it’s awesome that they’re successful and cooking great food at small restaurants and people care about what they’re doing.

My grievance is that, in the midst of this very exciting time for dining, the old guard culinary dads and their acolytes get butt-hurt about the fact that the attention has shifted away from them. I have no sympathy for these people, and I never want to read another rant about the "good old days," when the New York Times review was everything, diners craved "honest" food, and the word "chef" was something you earned. People's tastes change, and the path to success is different now than it was five or 10 years ago. I think we're in a better place with a lot of variety, and it's a more inclusive scene than ever before. So my advice to the Classic Rock chefs is to embrace the change or ignore it, but please stop whining.

Top photo: A table at Lowlife by Daniel Krieger


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