The end of WWI gave rise to the Roaring ’20s, a time of economic rebound and recovery. Future release from Covid-19 restrictions will likely invite us to gather again in a similar fashion: Music, food, travel, theater and sports will all come roaring back. Here are my predictions of what to look for in food culture specifically, beyond digital, delivery and drive-thrus, after the pandemic.
For those beloved restaurants that have survived, people will pack their dining rooms again. The comfort of known experiences, familiar staff and great food will help revive neighborhood spots as anchors in the communities they serve. These are the restaurants that were able to stick with us through the dark days of the pandemic, and we reciprocated with takeout, delivery and chilly outdoor dining compromises with the hope it would help.
Still, there will be many more vacancies, lost fortunes and unrealized dreams in the wake of impossible circumstances. Quietly, new seeds of creativity, ambition and opportunity will begin to sprout, filling the spaces of loss at rents rightsized for recovery. The chefs and sous chefs of shuttered restaurants have taken this year to incubate new ideas. Free from the burden of loss or repair, I expect these unencumbered talents will serve as a leading creative force born from the ashes.
In the cities, expect new flavors, techniques and hospitality to welcome diners’ demand for unique experiences following this period of social austerity. For an industry based on cheap rents and low pay, expect the most progressive to build their businesses around healthy wages and work conditions at a sustainable cost to consumers. New models will likely emerge from ticketed events to highly curated, invite-only dinner clubs for those willing and able to grab a seat.
The shared experience of a global pandemic and President Biden’s attention to climate change will likely deepen our demands for a more resilient supply chain grounded in regenerative systems. While chefs in city centers reboot relationships with small local farmers, consumers will continue their curiosity and deeper appreciation for the true cost of food. Blockchain technology could offer transparency of food principles, inviting consumers to vote their conscience.
Diversity will play a bigger role in the foodscape. Look for bold new voices with their own interpretations of the American food experience. Diverse influences with refined culinary chops will introduce new ingredients grounded in ancient cultures hybridized for a new consumer. Unable to travel, creatives look inside to unlock their unique voices in novel forms.
Social equity will drive food entrepreneurs to address long-tolerated inequities in our foodscape, from livable wages for farmers, cooks and processors to access to better food in historically underserved communities. Look for conscious entrepreneurs to meet the challenges of our time with innovative models.
If you are a food entrepreneur thinking about how to step into this brave new world, consider these five elements:
• Comfort: Find ways to become a meaningful part of people’s lives.
• Transparency: Honesty even in moments of imperfection is crucial.
• Diversity: Introduce new perspectives, and champion diversity and inclusivity.
• Social equity: Promote fair chance and opportunity for everyone.
• Unique experiences: Think of the experience you’re offering as the only place in the world offering that experience — even if your world is a city block or small town.
Food entrepreneurs and leaders should evaluate these five elements as they consider how the food industry will emerge after the pandemic. If you are a consumer, I ask that you continue to support those striving to make our world a better place through honest food systems designed for healthier outcomes. In a few months, I believe we can expect to see some of the new voices shaping the future of food culture.