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Biggest Hopes for the Restaurant Industry in 2021

A wish list as the industry rebuilds

The sun rises behind the Empire State Building and Hudson Yards in New York City on December 24, 2020 Photo by Gary Hershorn/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 is your biggest hope for the restaurant industry in 2021?

Joanne Kwong, president of NYC institution Pearl River Mart and Pearl River Mart Foods: My biggest hope is that Congress signs a proper relief bill (not a skinny one) and quick. Restaurants and retail businesses like ours are hanging on by a string. We are all depleting savings and amassing debt that will take years to dig out from under. But, with funding from the federal government and a comprehensive small business strategy from our states and municipalities, the restaurant industry could embark on a real renaissance since great creativity has always emerged from times of crisis. Small business owners have all been pivoting since Day 1 to make it to the other side of the pandemic; it’s now time for an effective government to share some of our burden and help us rebuild.

Alan Sytsma, editor, Grub Street: That the devastation of 2020 helps people understand just how fragile this industry really is — and that everyone helps to rebuild it in a way that makes it safer, stronger, and more equitable for everyone.

Sonny Solomon, veteran restaurateur and co-owner of Veeray Da Dhaba: For a safe reopening so customers can once again enjoy the whole experience of dining at their favorite spots, and connect with friends and family. With the vaccine here, there is hope that people will be less wary of indoor dining during the winter and help the industry pick up and grow once again.

Keith Powers, NYC council member: After vaccination, three-hour waits all across the city—just a total flood of folks out, patronizing, and enjoying their city.

Clay Williams, food photographer and co-founder of Black Food Folks: That they take care of their staffs as part of the business model, not just for show.

Jackie Wang, project manager of non-profit Welcome to Chinatown: 2020 drew back the curtains on struggles which the food service and restaurant industry have always endured — particularly small businesses. The pandemic made one thing clear: we need to reprogram our views on food service, both on a patron and policy level.

Nikita Richardson, senior staff editor, NYT Food: That it will be more equitable and bad behavior among chefs and other managers will truly be inexcusable. I hope that members of the food media will stop taking chefs at their word and dig deeper into how they conduct themselves within and without their restaurants. There are too many bad actors masquerading as good guys, and we are responsible for propping them up. It has to stop.

Melissa McCart, editor of Heated and former Eater NY editor: I know there are a ton of fantastic customers but I’m struck by how many restaurants have mentioned that customers haven’t changed attitudes with the pandemic. In that light, I’m hoping that the customers they’re talking about are less entitled and more empathetic restaurants and restaurant employees.

Brad Hoylman, New York state senator: My biggest hope is for federal and state aid to get us through the pandemic and a vaccine that’s widely distributed by late spring to help the industry with a “shot in the arm.” Broadway and other cultural and arts venues will then begin to recover, too, and tourism in general. I’m grateful to the federal aid that was just secured in the most recent stimulus package but we must do much, much more. New York is a restaurant town but half of them may not make it. Fighting for the future of restaurants is like fighting for the future of the city itself.

Antonio Reynoso, NYC council member: My biggest hope for the industry in 2021 is for all levels of government — city, state, and federal — to work together to provide assistance and relief to restaurants. This means financial relief, first and foremost. I also hope that relief efforts will prioritize our MWBE (Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises) and small, locally owned restaurants who were already at a disadvantage before the COVID pandemic hit. Small, local businesses are an essential part of every thriving community. In order to keep these economic engines in our neighborhoods, the government needs to step in and provide assistance.

Carlina Rivera, NYC council member: That delivery workers who have helped sustain the industry finally receive justice. Delivery workers deserve access to bathrooms and rest areas, they deserve access to free safety equipment, and most of all they deserve real living wages, as well as bonuses for their incredible service during the pandemic. In addition, my other big hope is that sufficient financial aid is made available through federal relief so that we stop losing establishments that just need to get through to the other side of these waves and vaccine distribution. Direct city and state assistance could potentially make it possible to provide additional financial assistance to foster new businesses (or for those owners who had to close but want to re-open the same or a new establishment). That’s why I passed legislation suspending the enforcement of personal liability provisions in commercial leases until March 2021. New York City is nothing without its dining scene — that’s why we have to do more to support our restaurants financially and legislatively.

Kat Kinsman, senior editor, Food & Wine: Every single restaurant worker, regardless of documentation status, having access to healthcare (including mental health) and a living wage — as the floor not the ceiling — is the thing that would make me feel better about our very broken nation. It will require government intervention and buy-in from a skeptical and exhausted public, but I have to hope and believe we can get there.

Adam Friedlander, freelance photographer for the New York Times, Eater, etc.: I hope we can see people ordering directly from restaurants more rather than through delivery apps.

Kim Pham, co-founder, Omsom: I’m so excited to see the magic that will be born from some of these pandemic-related constraints being let go. I’m most hopeful for the possibility of a roaring renaissance of the NYC food and drink scene — born from the resourcefulness, creativity, and grit this year has truly forced to light.

  • JJ Johnson, chef and founder, Fieldtrip: That we can reopen and make people feel comfortable again to dine in with us.

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

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