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Adapt or Perish: How the Restaurant Industry Has Evolved Since the Pandemic

a couple of people that are standing in a storeThree years ago, our lives were disrupted as the Covid-19 virus worked its way around the world. The health consequences were dire, but the economic repercussions were equally severe. Jobs were lost, supply chains were disrupted, and consumer behavior shifted. Particularly hard hit was the restaurant industry.

In order to survive, restaurants had to pivot almost overnight to accommodate take out and delivery, add new technology and safety measures, and get more creative with menu options and marketing. Many reached out for community support receiving financial assistance from local organizations, government grants, and relief funds.

Fast forward to 2023 when I began to notice a marked change in the restaurant industry. Some of the local restaurants who survived the pandemic, perhaps with financial assistance, shortened their hours and consequently lost valuable staff. Patrons, who had been patient throughout the pandemic, complained of poor service and high prices. Job openings were difficult to fill because of a loss of service workers who switched careers as a result of the pandemic. Owners wearing multiple hats to keep their businesses afloat dealt with inflation at the same time they suffered from burnout. Some restaurants closed completely, a few closed rather abruptly.

a plate of food on a tableNevertheless, with the arrival of 2024, I am hopeful. An ongoing mission to renovate historic buildings and revitalize Downtown Cincinnati and the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood is creating opportunities for more local entrepreneurs. The heart of the city near Fountain Square is now anchored by not only Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse, but also is surrounded by new restaurants like The Davidson and Baru. The Walnut Hills historic neighborhood is on the verge of a culinary explosion as Aperture, Cafe Mochiko, and Solstice attract new attention.

Good service and attention to detail are creeping back into the restaurant scene. (Not to mention higher menu prices, white tablecloths, bussers with water pitchers, and plates accented with a swoosh of sauce.) As I see restaurants buzzing with business, I think it’s the friendly smile from the server, the quiet romance of a candlelit booth, or the lively conversation at the bar that we missed. Restaurants that adapted did not perish during the pandemic. Now it’s up to us to decide if we are willing to pay more for the post-pandemic restaurant experience.