It’s less than welcome for the country’s best newspaper to judge other food cultures and cities, and a story recently published in the New York Times – how San Francisco restaurants can’t afford waiters and have diners collect orders – has grossly misinterpreted local dynamics of the quick, causal food that was born in the Bay Area.
With the bulk of the trends in local food coming from the West Coast, which has a year-round growing season and potentially more residents cook, it should come as no surprise that the Bay Area pioneered the concept of quick and casual dining. Most of the tech world is also concentrated in the West Coast, and its culinary culture is not particularly familiar to New Yorkers.
Quick, casual dining was born in the Bay Area because it fits. Tech-happy millennials are strongly driven by three food principles: queuing is trendy and fun, nobody has more than 20 minutes to eat, and everyone wants to eat the same dishes over and over again.
For the restaurants, the math is simple: if they turn the tables every 20 minutes, especially with expensive groceries – like $ 20 salads with flawless ingredients – and $ 18 glasses of wine, they’ll make way more money than a fine. Restaurant. It’s not because they can’t afford servers. Without them, they’re just so much more profitable.
“I firmly believe that people don’t want a choice and are creatures of habit by nature. I balance that with the importance of getting one and one good, ”says Charles Bililies, founder and CEO of the three-location Souvla featured in the Times story. “When Souvla first opened in 2014, our limited menu was puzzling and a novelty to many, even though brands like In-N-Out have been doing this for decades.”
Another reason fast, casual diners appeal so much to San Francisco diners is because market research shows millennials are experience driven and not brand loyal, Gwyneth J. Borden, the San Francisco-based executive director of the Golden, told Gate Restaurant Association that represents local restaurants.
“The restaurant culture in San Francisco confirms this more than anywhere else, as technological wealth is concentrated among millennials,” he said Borden, who was also quoted in the Times story.
Pointing out just how much Asian flavors are influencing San Francisco’s food culture, she says that, along with the tech industry with a strong Asian presence, means that foods have arrived that weren’t previously mainstream. Some of these new Asian restaurants come from cult groups in their home countries. Thanks to social media and the millennial willingness to stand in line, the queues form from the first day of opening. “
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Souvla is full every night. Some locations cannot even close the door as the collection line goes around the corner. The well-curated place is simply decorated, and diners stand in line – sometimes 20 minutes or more – to order a salad for $ 12-15 and a glass of wine for $ 12-14. The server will place the order at the table. If diners want olive oil or another glass of wine, they’ll have to get up and likely wait in line to get it. Guests are still being asked to tip for a two second salad delivery.
Much research suggests that millennials no longer want to cook and could destroy supermarkets and grocery brands as we know them – that is possible. Part of the Easy Food Now culture is working in places like Google that have multiple chefs – and masseuses – on duty to provide whatever is needed quickly and efficiently.
Many of the new tech “migrants” to San Francisco have barely any milk in the fridge at home and are not worried about it. They also think it’s fabulous to stand in line as part of the scene – hence a number of ramen restaurants with 2 hour waiting times. They also don’t mind eating in a rush, and obviously prefer simple menus – chicken salad or sandwiches – so as not to further confuse their commuting brains.
Dare you think that it is a plus that this type of food has not yet fully invaded New York? And should the editors of the New York Times, fortunately not understanding where San Francisco’s millennial food culture is leading, be forgiven?