Oklava restaurant

10 positive changes in the restaurant industry

Ten energetic opinion-formers share the positive changes they hope to see this year – from championing diverse cuisines to tackling racial inequality – and how you can help

Want to know how the restaurant industry has changed for the better? Check out these positive changes that are part of the great restaurant reset, then read about individuals in the industry making a positive impact. Why not support your favourite restaurant by ordering a meal kit to enjoy at home?

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Positive changes in 2021

1) Taking positive steps to combat racism

Chef Zoe Adjonyoh, co-founder of Black Book, a representation platform for black and non-white people working in hospitality and food media 

“In part, Black Book works with restaurant clients to undo systems that suffocate their ability to attract and develop talent, fairly and equitably. Prioritising anti-racism is not as simple as randomly hiring more black or non-white people. Without a deep examination of a business’s culture, language, policies, nothing will stick. It’s virtue signalling. I don’t think diners can assess whether a restaurant is racist or not. How could they? But they can ask questions (like, does this restaurant pay decent wages?), and question their own choices. Is this menu unfairly appropriating another food culture? Is that profiteering hampering wealth creation in non-white communities? Should I buy dinner at a black-owned business where this food is culturally important?”

Zoe Adjonyoh

2) Restaurants will help their local communities

Jimi Famurewa, chief restaurant critic at the Evening Standard and MasterChef regular

“Last year’s collaborative food aid work was very heartening. Seeing higher-end restaurants, some in recently gentrified areas, feeding NHS workers or school children, and engaging with their local communities, made me think, could that carry on? Could giving back be baked into a restaurant’s philosophy? In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, New York’s Maison Yaki offered itself as a platform to black chefs and food entrepreneurs in a pop-up series, helping many to get press attention or find kitchens. A great example of sharing the spotlight.”


3) The championing of Caribbean cooking

Keshia Sakarah, chef-owner of Caribe’, London 

“First and foremost, Caribbean culture is not respected. That extends to how, unlike other immigrant cuisines such as Thai or Italian, Caribbean food has not been given the space to break through. Roti and curry goat is seen as takeaway comfort food rather than restaurant dining. From the lack of Caribbean chefs in influential positions to cooks and business owners struggling to get bank loans for restaurants, this has institutionally racist roots. I’ve had people tell me my food is ‘too simple’. But Caribbean food is humble home cooking. There should be just as much fanfare around cultural food with a proud history as there is highly technical, Euro-centric dishes. When people try new food they should ignore inherent bias and be open.”

Caribe'

4) Abolish service charge!

Selin Kiazim, chef and co-owner of Oklava, London

“We never liked service charge. It confuses everyone, staff and customers. It is not a tip. As a business, it’s integral to paying staff properly and that should not be dependent on diners’ goodwill. This is a high-skilled job. Staff should know they’re valued and deserve a consistent wage. In some venues, where service charge is distributed through a tronc system, it means wages fluctuate. Last summer, we scrapped service charge, incorporating it into our menu prices. Diners are very supportive.”


5) No more no-shows at restaurants

Si Toft, chef-owner, The Dining Room, Abersoch

“A minority of diners don’t understand how dire the financial situation is. In good times, restaurant profit margins are tight. With reduced covers, I’m working to break even. No-shows and tables of four that turn up as two can tank a service, despite charging a £10-per-head deposit. If you book, mean it. And please don’t complain about our wine prices because you can buy a supermarket merlot for four quid. The two things don’t compare.”

The Dining Room

6) Eating more British produce

Andrew Stephen of the Sustainable Restaurant Association

“Like it or not, we have left the EU. This is an amazing opportunity to capitalise on our national larder. Currently, about half the food we eat is produced here and only 5 per cent of its value goes to producers. We’d call on restaurants to buy British from farmers embracing regenerative farming practices – 75 per cent of consumers told us they’d try local ingredients as substitutes in dishes; say, broad beans over avocado in guacamole. Doing so will help address the climate emergency.”


7) Source directly from suppliers

Pamela Yung, head chef of Flor and ASAP Pizza, London

“Last year, there was a general awakening about who produces our food. From a restaurant standpoint, I’ve always sourced that way: giving back to producers as much as possible in monetary exchange, recognition and support. I enjoy that dialogue with farmers about what’s good right now and what they need to move, versus hand-picking X, Y and Z. I trust them. I want them in business. They’re critical to everything I do.”

Pamela Yung

8) Develop a sense of solidarity with eateries

Alex Claridge, chef-owner of The Wilderness, Birmingham 

“We’re a celebration restaurant. It’s a pleasure to share guests’ special occasions. The downside is that minority who expect birthday freebies. Last year, we gave away several grand in drinks and perks. Post-Covid, that’s not tenable. We switched to signed cards rather than free bubbly. Most guests get it. But the occasional one can’t believe it. And tells us! Don’t be so demanding.”


9) Celebrate China’s history of fine dining

Lap-fai Lee, cook, tutor and ‘food nerd’, Birmingham, thefoodist.co.uk

“Perhaps the first Western chef to make XO sauce diligently used dried scallops and went deep on it, but now chefs are going off copies of copies, putting it on menus because it looks ‘edgy’ and adding ingredients in ways they’d never dream of if making Italian or French food. It’s the same when I see sweet ’n’ sour reinterpreted by chefs who’ve just eaten junky takeaway Chinese, with no reference to real Cantonese sweet ’n’ sour. Chinese cuisine is prominent. China has a 1,500-year history of fine dining. It does not get the respect it deserves, which is hurtful, especially to immigrant communities. Food is such a link to home.”

Lap-fai Lee

10) Shorter but better menus

Jonny Heyes, owner of Common, Manchester aplacecalledcommon.co.uk

“Post-Covid, a big trend will be shorter, specialised restaurant menus which enable venues to adhere to their values. Old Common was fun but I disliked the amount of meat and imported ingredients we used and that whole ‘big menus’ thing needs booming demand. It’s financially tighter now and our NY-inspired Nell’s Pizza menu is our sustainable response. We’re using less kitchen energy, less but better quality meat, and more British produce, such as Shipton Mill’s organic flour. We should be a Living Wage Foundation employer by early 2021, too.”

pizza

Ways you can help

1) Do research

Is the restaurant/coffee shop/café backed by a big chain or a family affair? The latter will need your help a lot more in 2021. Check their website, Instagram or just go in and say hello – you might make a new friend!

2) Check the venue’s website or social media feeds

Some have turned themselves into mini shops selling ingredients that they would normally use.

3) Buy direct

Meal delivery platforms are convenient but they take a chunk of the businesses profit. If you are able to go and pick up food, do it.

4) Do PR for them

Join a local Facebook or community online group and shout about who’s doing great food and drink. This means a lot to local businesses.

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5) Buy a gift voucher for friends and family

This puts cash directly into the restaurant, and your loved ones are rewarded with a fabulous meal experience.