Restaurants scrapped printed menus and told diners to scan QR codes. Plexiglass partitions were installed between tables. Restaurants began selling more merchandise and even kitchen goods.
Last fall, my colleagues in the Food section and I wrote about the changes to restaurants since the start of the pandemic. Looking at that list a year later, I’m surprised by how many have stuck: It feels less common these days to receive a physical menu, for example.
But this period of upheaval is far from over. The pandemic and its side effects, like inflation and supply chain problems, are still presenting challenges for restaurant owners.
Diners will continue to encounter these changes this fall, which is typically a boom time for the business. New places open, and foot traffic picks up as the weather cools off. (For New Yorkers, The New York Times has a guide to the openings we are the most excited about.)
In today’s newsletter, I wanted to tell you what to expect when you go out to eat this fall.
Outdoor dining is still here
What was once a temporary solution to help restaurants has become a long-term setup. Across the country, it’s common to see dining tables on sidewalks, in parking lots and in streets. Owners are investing heavily in making their outdoor spaces look as nice as their dining rooms, bringing in plants, colorful awnings and artificial grass. A few weeks ago, I reported on the ubiquity of a $149 cordless LED lamp, which has added a cozy glow to outdoor dining tables in cities like New York and Miami, no candle required.
Some cities have stopped short of allowing outdoor dining year-round. Many restaurants are pushing for it because the extra seats increase sales. Critics say outdoor tables can disrupt public spaces, interfering with pedestrian and street traffic. For now, just hope for good weather when you book one. (My tip: Check restaurant Instagram accounts to see whether the outdoor space is covered.)
And so is inflation
Restaurant checks are getting more expensive, and they may continue to. Don’t be surprised to see $15 French fries. Even ice cream truck owners are dealing with higher costs for sprinkles and cones.
That’s because food costs are rising — 10.9 percent in July compared with a year earlier, even though the pace of overall inflation has cooled. Energy costs were up 32.9 percent, too. (The data for August will be released next week.) Restaurants, which already operate on thin margins, are often passing those costs on to customers.
My colleague Umi Syam and I broke down how inflation has affected the dinner bill through the lens of a single restaurant, Good Food on Montford, in Charlotte, N.C. The owner, Bruce Moffett, said he was having to pay more for wine because of inconsistent grape harvests resulting from climate change. Flour prices are up because of grain shortages caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
When I was traveling this past spring to report on our annual list of standout restaurants, I quickly realized that open hours posted on websites weren’t always reliable. I’d show up to find a sign on the door that said the restaurant was closed because the owners didn’t have enough employees to work that day. With many places still unable to find workers, some owners are opening their restaurants only a few days a week or being forced to close unexpectedly. Others just want to give their staff members time off to recharge.
For restaurants that don’t accept reservations, try calling or sending a message on Instagram to confirm that they’re open. If you really want to eat at a particular spot, be flexible and patient.
That volatility extends to other parts of restaurants’ operations: Because supply chain issues have limited the availability of some ingredients, menus may be shorter, or favorite dishes may be gone. Staffing shortages may mean longer wait times for food.
I had many incredible meals during my travels for our restaurants list, and I don’t take being able to dine out for granted. But the reality is that dining is more expensive and less predictable than it once was.
THE LATEST NEWS
The curious hole in her head: A woman born without a left temporal lobe has been a research subject for much of her life.
Deep-sea tourism: A more detailed look at the Titanic.
The World Through a Lens: Tending to grass, and to grief, on an Iowa tennis court.
Metropolitan Diary: A subway intervention, a daily coffee and more of your New York City tales.
Quiz time: The average score on our latest news quiz was 9.6. Can you do better?
A Times classic: How the “Call Her Daddy” podcast feud began.
Lives Lived: In 1952, Jack Kerouac walked into the basement studio of Sterling Lord and handed him a manuscript for “On the Road,” setting Lord on the path to becoming one of New York’s most successful literary agents. Lord died at 102.
SPORTS NEWS FROM THE ATHLETIC
Ryan Reynolds enters the streaming wars: The movie star and co-owner of Wrexham A.F.C., which plays in the fifth tier of the English soccer system, really wants his club to be able to stream games. Reynolds’ appeal to his 20 million Twitter followers and the ensuing discussion are symbolic of the growing “Wrexham effect.”
Albert Pujols inches closer to No. 700: The St. Louis Cardinals slugger launched his 695th career home run in a pinch hitting appearance last night, propelling his team to a win and adding another note to his storybook final season. He sits one homer shy of Alex Rodriguez for fourth all time.
A wild L.S.U. debut for coach Brian Kelly: Florida State closed out college football’s opening weekend with a thrilling 24-23 win last night. The Seminoles blocked the Tigers’ tying extra point attempt after they scored a last-second touchdown.
ARTS AND IDEAS
Under water, underground
For most New Yorkers, the end of summer means the end of swimming. But beneath a handful of townhouses and skyscrapers, subterranean pools allow an exclusive club to take a dip whenever they please.
Below the Brooklyn Point condominium tower, residents swim laps in a saltwater pool. Under a $26 million home on Central Park West, Spanish porcelain tile and stucco arches create a dreamlike grotto. A 25-foot basement pool is one of the highlights of the West Village rental that Taylor Swift made famous in her song “Cornelia Street.”
Photographs by Ashok Sinha offer a glimpse of this hidden side of the city.
PLAY, WATCH, EAT
What to Cook
Brendan Fraser is earning Oscar chatter for his role as a 600-pound recluse in Darren Aronofsky’s film “The Whale.”