As the editor of a publication that covers restaurants, I’ve heard the phrase many times: “Restaurants are about so much more than the food.”
Philosophically, I have always known this to be true. At The Infatuation, we had long taken the stance that when eating out, the situation that brings you to a restaurant can matter as much as what’s on the table. And as a person who cares very, very deeply about cities (I have been known to memorize maps), I’ve spent a good deal of time thinking about how restaurants also help us better understand the places we live.
So it didn’t take 2020 or a pandemic to introduce me to the idea that restaurants are about more than food. But wow, has 2020 made that idea resonate more strongly than ever.
Look at restaurants and you’ll see a pretty clear picture of what society as a whole has been through the past year. In restaurants, we have seen stories of survival, of reinvention, of resilience, and of loss. We have seen examples of racial and economic injustice, and of awakening to these issues. Like so many American communities, restaurants have suffered brutal financial losses, and were left without satisfactory help from the government. Like all of us, they have been presented with confusing rules and mixed messages from authorities. Many restaurants unceremoniously closed forever, without a chance to say goodbye. Defying odds, others opened, sometimes hacking it together in makeshift spaces. Not because they wanted to, but because they had to, they adopted new technology, and made it work. They also banded together to help each other and their communities.
Throughout 2020, we’ve seen that restaurants tell us stories about society. At The Infatuation, we also saw that we needed to start changing the way we tell stories about restaurants.
One step was removing ratings, which we did exactly halfway through the year, on June 30. For over a decade, we’d assigned numerical ratings to restaurants, but it quickly became clear that this no longer made sense. Our old ratings were no longer accurate or useful, and we couldn’t imagine a near-term or long-term future where they would.
Some changes, like removing ratings, were big, bold shifts that happened quickly. Others have sprouted from ongoing, nuanced conversations. In late May, at the outset of the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, LA Staff Writer Kat Hong compiled a list of Black-owned LA restaurants, which was widely circulated and later published on The Infatuation LA. The other cities we operate in followed with similar lists, published in early June. This sparked an important internal conversation: in the past, we had actively avoided talking about who owned a restaurant, or who the chef was. Our feeling was that we didn’t care if the chef had worked at a Michelin-starred restaurant before, or about what awards they had won. The goal was to not to be too insidery, or too impressed by fancy pedigrees. We also didn’t want to alienate readers who didn’t follow the industry too closely. But this attempt at what we thought of as inclusiveness was short-sighted, and no longer made sense for the world we’re currently living in.
Between the summer and today, we’ve taken steps to question our research and writing processes, and have published a great deal of content that decisively takes personal identity into account. In our year-end collection, “Thank You, Restaurants” you’ll see many examples of storytelling about restaurant owners and staff, covering topics like what it’s like to open during a pandemic and how they’re thinking about the future going into 2021. But you’ll also find personal essays from our staff about their own experiences this year: there’s Brant Cox on the closing of four West Hollywood gay bars, Julia Chen on starting a career in food media during a pivotal year, Nikko Duren on rethinking personal style when it comes to dining out, Lani Conway on how restaurants must continue to stand up for social justice, and more.
Throughout the collection, there are stories about innovation, new trends, community, reinvention, and what’s coming next. They are about what we learned, what we lost, what we’re excited about, and of course, what we ate. I promise, there’s a lot about what we ate.
Restaurants have been a proxy for so much else this year, and in addition to feeding us and inspiring us, they’ve also shown us so much about the world we live in. So, we also decided to dedicate this collection of pieces to them and say, thank you, restaurants.
Editor In Chief