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NYC Restaurant Headline Predictions for 2021

What’s in store for restaurants next year?

Plastic igloos stand empty outside the Tap Room on the East Side on December 26, 2020 in New York City.  Photo by John Lamparski/Getty Images

Welcome to Year in Eater 2020, Eater’s annual ritual of eulogizing the past 12 months. In 2020’s final days, Eater NY will be posting questions about New York City’s restaurant scene in the past year, with answers from food writers, photographers, chefs, restaurateurs, entrepreneurs, and even a few local legislators who helped to support the industry through this enormously difficult year. Now, we ask: What are your headline predictions for 2021?

Keith Powers, NYC council member: Takeout Alcohol a Permanent Fixture in New York City; New York City Permanently Closes Key Streets for Dining; State Overhauls Convoluted Liquor Laws

Fabián von Hauske Valtierra, chef and co-owner of Contra and Wildair: Hahaha God, who knows, hope the world does not come to an end.

Clay Williams, food photographer and co-founder of Black Food Folks: Oof, I don’t do predictions.

Emma Orlow, writer for the New York Times, Bon Appétit, and Eater: Cynical take: there will be more exploitation from third party delivery apps of restaurants and delivery workers. Plus, continued pressure on restaurant staff to choose between their health and their livelihoods. Obviously, a large number of New Yorkers that will be food insecure in 2021. Surely, some greedy landlords who are unwilling to make deals with small businesses. Less depressing take: I’m sure everyone will say this, but definitely more and more pop-ups and additional mutual-aid groups. Developments such as the grassroots collective FIG make me feel hopeful.

Tae Yoon, NYC editor, Thrillist: With the Restaurant Industry’s Unprecedented Rebound, Many Eateries Are Now Booked Out for Months; Bars and Restaurants Near Vaccine Sites Offering Post Shot Specials; Restaurant Crews Are the New Celebrity Chefs

Victoria Lee, co-founder of non-profit Welcome to Chinatown: I think we’ll see more fast casual and a focus on the take out and delivery experience and packaging because of the uncertainty of indoor dining. Less is more with focused menus to cut down on inventory, but restaurants putting their best sellers at the forefront.

Brad Hoylman, New York state senator: Fingers crossed: “Washington and Albany Move Decisively to Save Thousands of Jobs in Restaurant Industry” and “Vaccine Brings NYC Tourism Industry Back, Stronger Than Ever”

Kat Kinsman, senior editor, Food & Wine: Ivanka and Jared Booed Again: “Just Let Us Eat in Peace!”

Adam Friedlander, freelance photographer for the New York Times, Eater, etc.: I think we will be seeing some bigger chains in Midtown close as most people continue working from home and tourism is at such a low point.

Nikita Richardson, senior staff editor, NYT Food: [Enter beloved restaurant name here] becomes a Chipotle. :(

Erika Chou, co-owner of restaurants including Wayla and Kimika: Where are they now? Checking in with quarantined home chefs and their sourdough babies, now toddlers.

Joanne Kwong, president of NYC institution Pearl River Mart and Pearl River Mart Foods: New Generation of Chefs and Entrepreneurs Spur Chinatown’s Renaissance

Gary He, writer and photographer, author of Astrolabe newsletter: You have a lot of restaurants that are just accruing debt right now, holding on just to see if more aid or some sort of Hand of God rent cancellation will make it worthwhile. But I think for most, the back rent owed will become greater than the cost of a new buildout, if it hasn’t already. So you’ll see a massive wave of closure stories, followed by a flurry of stories about new projects being launched by those same people after they reset.

Melissa McCart, editor of Heated and former Eater NY editor: Cheaper Manhattan rents usher in the next restaurant renaissance; More would-be restaurants debut as jack-of-all-trades, offering sundries and services along with sit-down meals (I’m being an optimist in my answers).


Note: Some answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.