Here's What Restaurants Need from You Right Now, According to Chefs

You might have to spend a little more and also spare some patience, but it's going to pay off for everyone.

Empty restaurant prepared for evening meal

Gary Burchell / Getty Images

More and more restaurants have reopened across the United States since the height of the pandemic, but that doesn't mean that the industry is back on stable ground. Staff and ingredient shortages, spiking costs, and cranky customers are still very much on the menu. "Patience" and "understanding" were words I heard over and over again as I interviewed chefs at the Southern Smoke Festival in Houston a few weeks ago. My question to them: What do you need from customers most right now?

Be on the up and up.

Nicole Mills and Sara Gruenberg
Nicole Mills and Sara Gruenberg.

Kat Kinsman

Newly-minted author (seriously, go buy Listen to Your Vegetables right now) and chef-partner of Monteverde Restaurant & Pastificio in Chicago Sarah Gruenberg wants guests to understand that price increases aren't about restaurants trying to be greedy. "It's just about having a little bit more adjustment in the rising costs and paying our team members more," she said. "I just think it's hard. We went through and did some cost checking two weeks ago, and realized we were underpriced. Things like butter and flour go up quickly and when you're using 100 pounds of it, it adds up." She hasn't gotten too much pushback thus far, but she knows there's a gap in the insight diners have into what restaurants actually spend.

Don't just go with the flow.

Nicole Mills, chef de cuisine at Peche in New Orleans, hopes to empower her guests to truly understand where the seafood they're enjoying in her restaurant actually comes from, and ask for local seafood wherever they go, whether it's a restaurant or a store. "That way, the demand for local seafood is higher than the demand for imported seafood," she explained. Mills encourages folks to ask questions like 'What region is this coming from? and ‘What water is it coming from?’ Is it coming from us?" If it's not, they should not buy it, and look for a more local market.

Put your money where your mouth is.

Cheetie Kumar
Cheetie Kumar.

Kat Kinsman

That connection to place and people is also key for Cheetie Kumar, the chef and co-owner of Garland, Neptunes, and Kings in Raleigh, North Carolina. "Better recognition of food systems, people recognizing how important it is to source locally, and that it costs a lot of money to make good food and to pay people well," is what she hopes diners will be open to. "Realizing that eating out is a luxury and being able to then support people dealing with food insecurity, There's a relationship between farmers, food insecurity, good labor practices, and guests and diners really backing those values."

Put your money where your mouth is.

Mike Lata
Mike Lata.

Kat Kinsman

While Mike Lata, chef and co-owner of FIG and The Ordinary in Charleston, South Carolina, feels deeply supported by his clientele, he also wants to give them some transparency into how decisions he's making for the health of the industry may show up on their plate. "I feel like the whole restaurant industry has to put as much of a premium on the employee as we do the guest, sometimes at the expense of the guest. There's only so much you can give," Lata explained. "We may have to say, you know what? I'm gonna put more into a young person learning the craft at the expense of them making a mistake, and a customer maybe experiencing 80 or 90% of what that dish could be." It's this passion — and diners' patience for it — that will help restaurants rebuild now, and have a deliciously sustainable future. 

If they're shorthanded, be kindhearted,

It wasn't even a second before the word "patience" came out of Tyler Spreen's mouth. As chef de cuisine of Herbsaint in New Orleans, he saw firsthand the extreme toll that Covid took on his city's tourist-heavy economy. "Right now we need patience because the industry is still struggling to get back to full capacity, as far as staffing. We've been on a path of trying to get more people in the restaurant, back to what we had pre-Covid and it's still a work in progress. We need people to understand that everybody's going through it."

Spreen and his fellow chefs at the Southern Smoke Festival — which raised over $1.6 for emergency funds for hospitality workers — have had their lives and businesses deeply affected by the pandemic. Still, in typical chef fashion, they showed up to serve the needs of others. "It's just nice to have the opportunity to do something like this to actually help people in the industry. And good leadership is inspiring because you always say you wanna do it, but it's another to see the people actually doing it," Spreen said. "Just like happiness can be infectious, so is action."

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles