Saturday, April 11, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Revision Of Dining Out

I was beginning to prepare an updated article on interesting
new local restaurants and new dining trends for this column
when the world, including the food world, suddenly changed.

Most of the new places on this list, and on my previous lists,
are now completely or partially closed. Alas, some of them
will likely not re-open. Dining out in the U.S. is  going to be

Exactly what this revision will be, of course, is not entirely
clear, and probably won’t be until after the national and global
health emergency is over --- and that is as yet undetermined.

Recent decades, beginning after World War II, had brought
about a food and dining renaissance to the U.S.  Previously,
fine dining was mostly available to the very affluent, and
ethnic dining was limited usually to small neighborhoods in
large urban areas where they had small numbers of
customers. Most Americans ate meals prepared at home.

During World War II, millions of American soldiers were
stationed throughout Europe, North Africa and the Pacific
where they encountered strange and delicious new cuisines.
Kitchen and food storage innovations at the same time
became available to millions of American households in the
post-war boom. A national food culture highlighted by
a few but simple dishes now exploded into a dynamic and
growing food hospitality industry . With more and more
women taking jobs, and growing families, inexpensive fast
food restaurant chains appeared and multiplied rapidly

With the appearance of television, and the boost from the
book and magazine publishing industries, a bounty of
cooking classes and recipes became available to whole
generations of U.S. women (and men) --- much of it
intensified and popularized by celebrity chefs and food

As U.S. middle class and working class families and
individuals became more affluent, American farmers
and other food providers responded with an increasing
quality and supply of meat, dairy, vegetable and fruit
products. Transportation innovation made importing
much more fresh food from abroad possible.

At the same time, labor and food costs were rising, and the
government sector increased restaurant regulations and
taxes, especially in urban areas, narrowing profit margins.
Even before the current emergency, restaurateurs across the
nation were changing their menus, formats and procedures
to meet  he new labor and customer demands. In some
urban locales, higher minimum wage requirements and
sales taxes were causing a number of restaurants to close
their doors

With state lockdown orders, most restaurants are now
closed and their employees laid off. Some restaurants and
coffeehouses (and liquor stores) remain open for delivery
or take-out only. Grocery stores and chains are open,
and also offer prepared, deli and other take-out foods and
meals on a daily basis. But most restaurants particularly
cannot operate like this this indefinitely. They have
employees, food suppliers and mortgage or other debts to

Many restaurateurs, especially those who are determined
to survive the current emergency, are already thinking past
the lockdowns. Some trends, such as reduced table service,
will likely accelerate. Other trends, such as increased space
between tables, heightened sanitary procedures, and reduced
hours and menus are also likely.

The restaurant industry is only one of many U.S. industries
which contribute so much to contemporary life, but it is also
one of the most vulnerable. Its development over the past
75 years has been astonishing, and now it will change again.
This time, I think, it will require a certain spirit of
partnership between management, employees and
customers if it is going to rebound in the post-emergency
food culture.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Barry Casselman.  All rights reserved.

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