The coronavirus touched down in the U.S. early this year, and by mid-March, restaurants across the country were suddenly and almost entirely shuttered. The pandemic decimated, in one cruel swoop, an industry that employs more than 15 million people, and was projected to do $899 billion in sales this year. Chefs, who are ordinarily consumed by the relentless pace of restaurant work, suddenly have the time to think about what the industry might look like after all of this when it’s safe to reopen.
We spoke with dozens of chefs and restaurant owners about what comes next. Thoughts ranged from the practical—disposable menus, added cleaning protocols, increased takeout options—to bigger picture revisions, like enhanced safety nets for restaurant workers and broader acceptance of no-tipping policies. Jon Nodler, chef and co-owner of Cadence, Food & Wine’s Best New Restaurant of 2019, is among those who hopes the crisis sparks an industry-wide change.
“We can’t keep running this traditional model, the food and labor costs, and the pressure put on people,” he says. “I hope that restaurant owners, and everyone working in restaurants, is using this as a time to evaluate how to come back to it.”
With Americans longing to dine in restaurants again and eager to support their favorite spots, now might be the best time to reset the rules. Read on for what these industry insiders predict (and hope, and fear) might come when restaurants re-open.