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D.C. Restaurant Experts Hope These Pandemic-Era Innovations Stick After the Pandemic Ends

More takeout options, sidewalk patios, ghost kitchens, and QR code menus are here to stay

Boneless chicken thighs glazed in sweet soy sauce and topped with crushed peanuts go into a takeout bowl filled with bok choy and a poached egg.
Takeout, like this adobo chicken bowl from Kuya Ja’s Lechon Belly, is expected to play a big role in the future of restaurants.
Rey Lopez/Eater D.C.

Following an Eater tradition, we asked a group of restaurant critics, journalists, bloggers, and — as a new twist this year — a couple industry pros to weigh in on the year in food. Their answers to an annual “Year in Eater” survey will be revealed in several posts this week. Next up, the dining experts share the innovations and “pivots” they feel will last beyond 2020.

Simone Jacobson, co-owner of Thamee: I am going to be honest and say if I never ever hear the word “pivot” again I will be the happiest woman on earth. I also deeply resent that we were forced to come to a full stop when more gradual, life-saving plans could have prevented a lot of the damage our industry was experiencing earlier on. But, if there is one silver lining, it’s that we’re forced to have new conversations about how utterly unsustainable our industry is/was. The other silver lining I hope will continue forever: more alfresco dining, less cars, and more pedestrian zones where people can reconnect, walk, talk, eat, drink, and enjoy life together again.

Paola Velez, executive pastry chef for Maydan, Compass Rose, and La Bodega: We’re in the digital age of restaurants. We’re going to see a lot more ghost kitchens appear.

Lenore Adkins, freelance food writer: Outdoor dining without a doubt. Not only was it an innovative way for restaurants to earn revenue, but customers REALLY seemed to like it. Maybe the city can help keep this going by setting some money aside for heating lamps and infrastructure that blocks the wind.

Tom Sietsema, Washington Post food critic: The pandemic prompted lots of businesses to tack on automatic gratuities, which translates to better wages for restaurant workers. With the help of miniature “lodges,” igloos and yurts, restaurants also proved that outdoor dining is something to savor year-round.

Raman Santra, Barred in DC blogger: Aside from takeout cocktails (already permanently legalized) and “streateries” (legal until end of 2021), I hope biz recognize the importance of thoughtful takeout food/packages/meals. I think you’ll see QR code/online menus be a cost/time saving measure that doesn’t detract from experience except in the most fine dining spots.

Ann Limpert, Washingtonian food editor and critic: I think takeout is going to remain a big part of people’s lives, so the whole ghost kitchen thing is smart. Plus, it’s been great to get access to chefs who don’t necessarily have restaurants, but do have a great idea.

Jessica Sidman, Washingtonian food editor: Alcohol delivery is fantastic, of course. And I’m loving how many restaurants are now selling items from their own pantries or walk-ins. I’ve been getting a seafood subscription box from Anxo for the past several months, and it’s great being able to get the same quality ingredients that restaurants use (bonus for delivery!).

Takera Gholson, Flights and Foods blogger: I look forward to more restaurants offering complete meals to go, with plating instructions and beverage pairings so the dine-in experience can be recreated at home.

Tim Carman, Washington Post food columnist: I hope restaurant owners take notice of what happened in 2020: that diners willingly embraced change and chaos. Owners should continue to evolve — and evolve constantly. Be willing to experiment with their concept, shake things up with pop-ups and side projects and ghost kitchens. Don’t be too tied to your original (and limited) vision of the restaurant.

Anela Malik, Feed the Malik blogger: I love the turn towards comfort foods and more casual dining. I’ll always deeply appreciate and enjoy an experimental fine dining experience but I’m a big fan of the pivot towards more approachable menus. I hope in 2021 that those moves continue. Food truly doesn’t have to be fancy to be outstanding, to remind us of home, or to make us crave more.

Gabe Hiatt, Eater D.C. editor: The idea that a restaurant space can contain multitudes is really exciting to me. Ghost kitchens and takeout-oriented pop-ups have already led to creative new menus and birthed whole restaurants, like Taqueria Xochi. QR code ordering, an innovation that was set to explode anyway (or so I’ve heard) opens up so many possibilities, too. Why print menus, wasting all that paper, when the majority of customers have a phone that can pull up the menu? That allows chefs to tweak their options so fast, if they’re so inclined. The glut of options available at the Roost, where customers can order sushi, pizza, burgers, poutine, dumplings, and potato rostis to the same table at the beer hall, is wild to experience for the first time. Ghostline has a similar setup for takeout, pulling the food hall craze into these limited-contact times.

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