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Cecconi’s pizza bar on Old Compton Street, Soho, London, after lockdown

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Where Should the London Restaurant World Go From Here?

How the industry should rebuild in 2022

Outdoor street dining is one change that could continue as the London restaurant world evolves.
| Michaël Protin

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 2021, the group were asked 13 questions, covering the best meals and the worst tweets alongside 2022 predictions and dining standbys. Their answers will appear throughout this week, with responses relayed in no particular order; cut and pasted below.

So far, Year in Eater has covered best newcomers, restaurant standbys, best meals, restaurant openings to watch in 2022, best and worst food moments of 2021, the best and worst food tweets of the year, the biggest restaurant surprises, the saddest closures of the year, and the biggest hopes for restaurants in 2022. Now, a similar theme: where should the London restaurant world go from here?

Adam Coghlan, Editor, Eater London: I think the “junior pundits,” the “student restaurant website” writers, and “lifestyle journalists” have shown the way. Who’s going with them?

James Hansen, Associate Editor, Eater London: If the first year of the pandemic showed up restaurants’s political impotence, the second has shown up the myopic focus of its lobbyists. It is no longer the case that restaurants will collapse without better political representation, but the world they inhabit will be smaller and poorer if it continues on its current trajectory. Change in this arena is badly needed.

Anna Sulan Masing, food writer and Eater London contributor: Ditching service charge and creating a system that is based on paying people fairly.

Jonathan Nunn, food writer and Eater London contributor: Park Royal.

Sejal Sukhadwala, food writer and Eater London contributor: Pay decent wages to restaurant workers; don’t hesitate to take deposits and charge customers for no-shows; make menus shorter, less ambitious, fussy and ego-centric, and more reflective of the current mood and economic reality.

Feroz Gajia, restaurateur and Eater London contributor: Consolidation and re-evaluating what qualities make individual restaurants viable. Clarifying why they are needed by their patrons and/or finding their customers will help stabilise the landscape. The people who fuel the constant building and expansion cycle are detrimental to its long-term survival.

Ed Cumming, writer and restaurant critic: Bigger, badder, more outrageous. If the Bae can charge £1000 for a steak, someone ought to be charging £500 for pasta — even River Cafe is only halfway there.

Sean Wyer, writer, researcher and Eater London contributor: In a city where far too many people have an MBA, I would love to see one of them find a way of putting an end to the “no reservations”/“booked up two months in advance” dichotomy.

Daisy Meager, food writer and Eater London contributor: There needs to be infrastructure in place to support the industry and the people in it, from rent protection to looking after staff.

George Reynolds, writer and Eater London contributor: My hope is that we will look back at the Great Recession and interpret it as a cautionary tale of the sort of places that do (and, more importantly, don’t) get financed and celebrated as the injection of cash into a struggling sector causes a feeding frenzy. My expectation is that we will find ourselves surrounded by whatever 2025’s version of Byron is in four years’ time and realised we missed our chance (again).

Emma Hughes, writer and Eater London contributor: This isn’t really within its control, but Soho summer street dining should become an annual thing.

Angela Hui, food writer and Eater London contributor: I can’t put it in better words than Rebecca May Johnson already has. No wonder there’s a staff shortage and the great resignation happening. There needs to be a societal shift in looking after staff that should be a priority and mental health is worth more than minimum wage. Pay people better, respect and nurture staff, improve basic rights and living standards.

David Jay Paw, food writer and Eater London contributor: Short term, commit to small changes that can offer workers a fair work-life balance and better compensation. Long term, better political representation for the industry wouldn’t hurt.

Lucas Oakley, food writer and Eater London contributor: A lot of work still needs to be done in tackling the frankly insane hours that many kitchen staff are forced to work. That needs to be addressed before we can even think about a return to any sort of “normal”.

Hester van Hensbergen, food writer and Eater London contributor: “Small is beautiful.” There is a natural affinity of scale between restaurants and smallholding producers. That gets lost when large middlemen suppliers are in the mix, no matter what values they espouse. I don’t think major supply businesses can offer the food system revolution they claim. Scaling up and partnerships with major supermarkets lead to quality loss and massive air miles as they strive to keep up with supermarket-style demand for unseasonal fresh produce year-round. A good food system in Britain would involve many more small-scale farms committed to working with nature through regenerative and traditional farming techniques. The restaurant industry should be supporting this vision directly: by forging strong relationships with small-scale producers committed to farming in a way that builds rich and vibrant ecosystems. No intermediaries required.