What a More Diverse Future Looks Like for Restaurants, According to Experts

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More than six months into the coronavirus pandemic, restaurants as we once knew them are fundamentally changed. For insight into what’s to come, experts across the industry — chefs, restaurateurs, media, producers, sommeliers, and activists — shared what they predict. The stories in this series explore diversifying revenue streams; ensuring diversity, equity, and inclusion; building a deeper community connection; nurturing a healthier workforce; and joining together to survive. This is the future of restaurants.

In 2020, the industry and the world reckoned with inequality, racism, and lack of diversity in leadership. The killing of George Floyd spurred nationwide protests against violence and discrimination, while longtime editors and executives were ousted from positions of power. The time for new, varied, and previously silenced voices to be overheard was long overdue.

A headshot of Priya Krishna

Priya Krishna | Credit: Edlyn D’Souza

Now, structural changes are in motion, thanks to those who have been brave enough to call for them. New leaders have been named, and the public is holding organizations accountable for fair pay and representation. 

The work is by no means complete, but a shift toward equity and inclusion will continue as restaurants demand more from their partners, teams, and communities. The expert quotes below showcase a few of those voices calling for inclusion, legal protections, and visibility for marginalized populations.

“I would love an industry that brings its BIPOC to the forefront, rather than relegating them to be the silent help in the back of the kitchen — something our country has been doing to Black people for as long as restaurants have existed in our country.” — Priya Krishna, food writer and author of the cookbook Indian-ish

“I find hope in … the expanded awareness of how crucial immigrants are to farming, groceries, restaurants, and food businesses. If the Department of Homeland Security, by issuing a memo, can deem the work of immigrant workers as essential, then we can work to dispense with the classification that these individuals are both illegal and essential in America — we need to develop a framework to allow these workers to work, and more importantly live, in America completely out of the shadows and fully in our community, free from unnecessary, aggressive threats of deportation for solely existing and working toward a better life for themselves and their loved ones.” — Vinny Eng, community organizer for SF New Deal

“In addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, recent racist events have exposed the fundamental flaws and inequities in our country — including the restaurant industry. Elements like health care, a real living wage, family leave, and employee protections and equity practices should be fundamental and have not been standard in this industry.” — Clare Reichenbach, CEO, James Beard Foundation

A headshot of Vinny Eng

Vinny Eng | Credit: Alora Lemalu

“[My top priority for my work moving forward is] telling stories of communities that are marginalized, honoring the work of so many that made this country’s foodways possible. I hope the future of the restaurant industry looks more equitable and sustainable and takes better care of the employees. I hope to see more Black women, more people of color, more queer people owning, working in, supplying restaurants in the future. I also want to see more federal protections for restaurant workers including mandated liveable wages, healthcare and retirement plans. This pandemic has shown us that hospitality workers are often the least protected when it comes to income and healthcare, and I’m hopeful that that will be addressed in the future.” — Korsha Wilson, food writer and host of A Hungry Society podcast

“In less than five to 10 years, my hopes are that all staff has full health insurance. That there is much more diversity in every aspect of our industry. That there is more equality in wages earned in our business between FOH and BOH and between funding for women-owned businesses, and for all minority-owned businesses. That our industry is more aware of the environment and the public is aware of the importance of this.” — Susan Feniger, chef and owner of Socalo and Border Grill

Reservations for Border Grill: