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Austin Dining Experts on How Restaurants Will Rebuild in 2021

Local food experts discuss government assistance, sustainability, and paid sick leave for service industry workers

Takeout containers
What will restaurants do about excessive takeout containers?
Erin Russell is associate editor of Eater Austin, a native Austinite, and a big fan of carbs.

As is the tradition as we near the end of 2020, Eater asked a trusted group of friends, industry types, and local bloggers for their takes on the past culinary year in Austin. Given the insanity of this year, Eater has adapted the standard survey into one the reflects the new realities of takeout, restaurant shutters, and a shaky industry. All answers will be revealed before the year ends — cut, pasted, (mostly) unedited, and in no particular order. Question number seven:

Where do you think the restaurant industry should go next as it rebuilds?

Robert Jacob Lerma, photographer for Eater Austin and others
That’s a tough question. The take-out model is unsustainable long-term. And it’s damn near impossible to stay afloat at 25 to 75 percent occupancy. Online sales and catering have helped some, but without government assistance, many places are on borrowed time. Our elected officials need to do their damn jobs to help these people. They shut down when they were asked/told, it’s only fair they are made close to whole for their contribution/sacrifice.

Sarah Engstrand, contributing writer, Eater Austin
I do see cloud kitchens becoming a pivotal part of the future of food and beverage, letting restaurants and bars expand their delivery reach with limited financial output. But I think they SHOULD go towards more of a human model — really building back up the relationship between customer and restaurant.

Katie Friel, editor, CultureMap Austin
If only we could find a more sustainable way to eat out. The only guilt that comes with to-go is the amount of plastic, styrofoam, and other waste that comes along with it. I don’t think to-go dining is going anywhere, so hopefully there will be an environmentally friendly company who can find a cheap way to do this. Maybe Elon Musk will figure it out.

Jane Ko, blogger, A Taste of Koko
More collaborations between restaurants and chefs.

Pat Sharpe, executive editor and food writer for Texas Monthly
It’s shocking and absurd that restaurants still are obliged to use the tip system to pay front-of-house workers a living wage. What other industry relies on a customers’ mood and generosity to survive? If ALL restaurants banded together to charge real-life prices, perhaps this practice could be deep-sixed for once and for all. It’s time for customers to wake up to the real cost of operating a restaurant.

Erin Russell, associate editor of Eater Austin
I would love to see more regulations to improve working conditions for restaurant workers. Living wage, health insurance, etc. We’ve seen how restaurant employees are essential — why not pay them that way?

Nadia Chaudhury, editor of Eater Austin
Offer living wages, paid sick leave, and health insurance to all service industry workers! Have the federal/state/city governments actually provide substantial financial aid and rent relief to small restaurants/bars/etc. in need! Get rid of third-party delivery apps!