It is the tradition at Eater to end the year with a survey of friends, contributors, rovers of the industry, and professional eaters. Even a year like this one. For 2020, the group were asked 13 questions, covering the best meals and the worst tweets alongside community responses, and coronavirus pivots. Their answers will appear throughout this week, with responses related in no particular order; cut and pasted below.
Having surveyed the best meals, the best delivery, the best and worst tweets, and the most memorable moments, it’s time to address perhaps the most-repeated, least-understood word of the year: the “pivot.” Here are the changes that restaurants made that stood out — and might even last into whatever “normal” looks like.
Adam Coghlan, Editor, Eater London: Being able to get more stuff — great ingredients, top wine — from the city’s best and most agile restaurants. Also being able to “experience” a lot of the restaurant without having to be in the restaurant for a conventional meal sitting. My hope is that by having been in restaurants less this year, they could, in theory and into the future, be in our lives more.
James Hansen, Associate Editor, Eater London: Any restaurant operation that was able to retool its offering into what customers needed, either at short notice or longer term, did superb work during this most uncertain year. The increase in hybrid shop-community-kitchen-shokunin-full-menu restaurants, some all of those things depending on the season, month, or even day of the week, has demonstrated how thinking flexibly can be a route to great success. As Jonathan notes, the advent of things pitched between a meal kit and a delivered, fully executed dish are also exciting, and like the hybridity most importantly allow restaurants to retain jobs.
Anna Sulan Masing, food writer and Eater London contributor: The investment of time into the restaurant’s communities. And, on a personal note, I want meal kits to stay. Due to a lot of reasons (partner in hospitality, on the vulnerable list etc), I had a lot of meals alone, which is not conducive to meal kits — so I have fomo! I got a Dishoom vegan naan delivery (#gift), and with my bubble friend Kate, we drank prosecco and made the naans and it was really fun! More getting boozed and some light cooking for 2021 please!
Jonathan Nunn, food writer and Eater London contributor: I think 2020 has shown that our previous concept of the restaurant is very restrictive, and that it is possible for restaurants to do all these other things which, in some cases, are both simpler and more appealing than what they did before. The real question is though: which of these things are economically viable and which ones aren’t? Personally, meal kits hold very little appeal but I do hope the vernacular of delivery continues to evolve and not just be ‘put what we usually cook in a takeaway box’. I also hope that restaurants selling more things which are technically incomplete ─ pastry, fresh pasta for instance ─ continues and allows customers to both cook themselves and engage with their favourite restaurants in a way that isn’t simply reading a set of branded instructions.
Chris Cotonou, writer and Eater London contributor: I’ve noticed more focus on initiatives to feed the homeless in 2020, as food banks see tragic numbers. I hope this continues in 2021, pandemic or no.
Sejal Sukhadwala, food writer and Eater London contributor: Home cooks cooking speciality items in their own kitchens and delivering via Facebook and Instagram messages. I hope this takes off. It’ll provide an income for marginalised cooks who may not have enough money to launch something like a supper club or pop-up, but at the same time giving us a taste of rare, forgotten or lesser-known regional dishes, and for people in their communities, a taste of home.
Emma Hughes, freelance food writer and Eater London contributor: They’re not pivots exactly (people have been doing the work for a very long time without mainstream food media taking much notice), but initiatives like Black Book and Sourced have changed how I think about so much to do with food and restaurants. Subscribing to the likes of Vittles and In Digestion has helped to shift the focus of that conversation for me too.
George Reynolds, food writer and Eater London contributor: Having done a pretty wide sweep of the available restaurant-vended condiments on the London market, the unanimous MVP is Dumpling Shack’s mala chilli oil. I am an enthusiastic supporter of being able to enjoy a little taste of one of your favourite restaurants in a domestic setting. So the production line at somewhere like Quality Chop Shop — where you can now get both the cod’s roe and chicken liver parfait to take away and dip crisps into like an absolute degenerate, is a pretty thrilling development. I have no idea if it actually makes economic sense for restaurants to do this stuff in parallel with a lunch or dinner service, but if they keep on selling it, I’ll certainly keep buying.
Shekha Vyas, food writer and Eater London contributor: A notable one has been the move for many restaurants into establishing themselves as a brand. Whether that is by the creation of physical and online shops for their signature products, or the launch of meal kits and merch, we have seen restaurants of all sizes diversify and serve their communities in ways they hadn’t before.
Feroz Gajia, restaurateur and Eater London contributor: I have seen a willingness to try new things and sell things businesses usually wouldn’t. The concept of added value has become more pervasive and clearer to see in some respects along with the transparency of how businesses are run. Most of all, the pivot producers have made to make things clearer and easier than ever to order will benefit consumers, restaurants and the producers themselves long term.
Gemma Croffie, writer and Eater London contributor: So many of us have found new ways to interact and connect with the people that feed us, whether it is through restaurant meal kits, online classes or buying directly from restaurant suppliers like Pesky Fish. I hope all these things carry on.
Daisy Meager, food writer and Eater London contributor: The emergence of projects like Big Night that support restaurants facilitate sustainable delivery options; consumer deliveries of produce from restaurant suppliers like Natoora, Namayasai Farm and Flourish Produce; food deliveries via DM like Rumah 2 Rumah and Pasta Princess.
Angela Hui, food writer and Eater London contributor: I’m floored by how quickly those working in hospitality have had to adapt and adhere to constant chopping and changing guidelines. Setting up web shops, offering pantry and essential items and pivoting to delivery and takeaway only. I hope they continue to up their e-commerce game, delivering further afield to those most in need and those who aren’t able to venture out. Who knows? Maybe restaurants will use drones to deliver our food in 2021.
David J Paw, food writer and Eater London contributor: Will be interested to see how e-commerce and national demand for prized London restaurant names evolves in 2021. Also looking forward to seeing newsletters like Sourced Journeys, In Digestion and, of course, Vittles, continue to lead the conversation in British (and global) food media.