Welcome to Year in Eater 2021, Eater’s annual ritual of eulogizing the past 12 months through input from the city’s top food writers. For 2021’s final week, Eater NY will be posting questions daily about New York City’s restaurant scene in the past year, with answers from those who know it best: Eater editors and friends of Eater. Now: What new pivots or innovative ideas have you seen emerge from the events of 2020 that you hope continue into 2022?
Amanda Kludt, editor-in-chief, Eater: I’ve loved seeing interesting pop-ups and collaborations, both the ones that are fleeting and you had to be there to catch them and the ones that live on and become permanent in some fashion. I never thought I’d be ordering food through Instagram or joining a months-long waitlist for fried chicken or a box of cookies, but these projects have injected a new sense of joy and informality and creativity to a previously stodgy food scene.
Tae Yoon, NYC editor, Thrillist: I really appreciate that zero proof cocktail options have become a standard on many menus. Not ordering a cocktail when going out once felt so frowned upon, but I’m happy to see that if a diner doesn’t feel like having a drink when they’re out, other creative alternatives exist.
Rachel Sugar, staff writer, Grub Street: I want pop-ups to continue popping! There’s something really thrilling about the temporary nature of them — like theater. I had this drama teacher in high school who’d always talk about how “theater is a sandcastle” — that you throw yourself into building this whole world, and then — poof! — it’s gone, like it was never there, and that’s the beauty of it. And it is! Good pop-ups have that energy, I think: they’re alive; they’re of a moment.
John deBary, drinks expert, co-founder of Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation: Unions, and more recognition of the deep origins of our culinary traditions.
Mahira Rivers, food journalist: I love specialty food stores and I am thrilled that retail has become a part of so many restaurant business models. I can’t resist a curation of goods from the city’s top chefs and hopefully the bonus revenue is good for their business, too.
And let’s continue to normalize talking about mental health.
Ryan Sutton, chief food critic, Eater NY: I want more outdoor dining, more takeout, more bakeries, more pop-ups, and most importantly fewer cars. But if I may, speaking as a cyclist who’s had some close calls this year, it would be nice if the city did more to educate both pedestrians and motorists and cyclists of all stripes (including delivery people) about the need to coexist safely.
Robert Sietsema, senior food critic, Eater NY: I love eating outdoors far into the winter, and as the pandemic parameters shift, these spaces provide an adaptive buffer that preserves the dining landscape against disease. But too often these outdoor privileges are meted out unfairly, so that one restaurant may commandeer an entire block of free real estate, while other places don’t have room for more than a single table and chairs. We need a way to share the outdoor space more equitably, maybe huge outdoor food courts on blocked off streets with roving sommeliers?
Grace Young, cookbook author: It was amazing to see some Chinatown restaurants created websites and started using food delivery platforms. This would’ve been unheard of before COVID.
Talia Baiocchi, editor-in-chef, Punch: I love how so many restaurants have continued their efforts to bring the experience and ethos of their concepts to people at home (or outside their four walls), whether that’s through a wine club or a line of products or a series of events. I think it just furthers this idea that each restaurant is part of a community and an arbiter of culture.
Note: Some answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.