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Austin Restaurant Trends That Experts Hope Continue Into 2021

Ghost kitchens, outdoor dining, and fun pop-ups on the horizon

A person scanning a QR code with mobile phone
QR code menus will probably stick around for a while
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 nine:

What new pivots or innovative ideas have you seen emerge in 2020 that you hope continue into 2021?

Sarah Engstrand, contributing writer, Eater Austin
I loved how the Austin community and restaurants rallied around each other. That kind of symbiotic relationship is what will help the food culture flourish again in a post-COVID world. We’ve been hurtling towards a trend of “food as a transactional service” relationship since February, and that’s sterile and depressing. Austin has shown that hospitality is alive and well, it’s about supporting each other and building relationships. I’d love to see that keep growing in the near future.

Raphael Brion, Texas editor, The Infatuation, and former editor of Eater
Pop-ups have really been one of the big highlights of 2020, from all the burger pop-ups (Bad Larry, Golden Castle, Fat City) to fun concepts like Little Ola’s, Le Cowboy, and the Cavalier’s Taco Fuego pop-up recreating discontinued items from Taco Bell. I like the idea of highly-specialized nostalgia-fueled fast food pop-ups, bringing dishes back from the past for people who crave something they’ve lost from their youth, while at the same time, introducing a whole new generation to dumb shit like a McDLT, Hi-C Ecto Cooler, or a Burger King Whopperito.

Katie Friel, editor, CultureMap Austin
The one-off experiences, these blink-and-you-miss-it pop-ups like La Barbecue’s Red Rocket Weiner Wagon are really cool and the Cavalier has absolutely crushed it with their theme nights and pop-ups. These events have always been around, but they usually come with a hefty price tag, and these are affordable, delicious, and fun, which everyone needs right now.

Jane Ko, blogger, A Taste of Koko
At-home kits with cooking videos from our local chefs and family kits.

Pat Sharpe, executive editor and food writer for Texas Monthly
I’ve appreciated the technical innovations like scannable online menus and no-contact paying. I also like eating outdoors — I hope restaurants will be allowed to keep on using adjacent city parking places. Obviously take-out has been great for customers, too. I rely on it many nights a week.

Robert Jacob Lerma, photographer for Eater Austin and others
Ghost kitchens, online shipping, mass production for grocers and delivery services have all helped, to an extent. My problem with the delivery services is their cut. When they’re making millions and restaurants are struggling, it’s hard to support them, but I understand their utility.

Erin Russell, associate editor of Eater Austin
I have loved all the chef collaborations and opening more outdoor spaces. I hope the community work continues into 2021 as well!

Nadia Chaudhury, editor of Eater Austin
-The ease and proliferation and standardization of ordering takeout food from most restaurants
-How restaurants have really stepped up their patio games safely
-How restaurant owners/chefs are being more mindful of their employees and the greater community
-How chefs are still trying to have some fun throughout this wild year with pop-ups and specials and collaborations