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This week, we passed the mic to you, dear diners, and asked you to tell us what you want local dining to taste, look, and feel like in 2022 while acknowledging that the hospitality industry is still in recovery.
The pandemic and risks associated with eating out are still top of mind, and for good reason. You also weighed in on QR codes, vegan options, tipping, and tasting menus. And there’s one Maryland resident who says they rely on chains because “all the food here sucks.”
Read on to hear what your fellow diners desire. The entries City Paper was able to publish have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Health & Safety
Editor’s note: There is currently no mask mandate or vaccine mandate in place for D.C. bars and restaurants, though Mayor Muriel Bowser issued a mask advisory earlier this month. A number of bars and restaurants have instituted their own vaccine or testing requirements.
Vaccine mandates! Right now I’m only going to places that are checking vaccine cards, and I’d like more options! —Abigail, D.C. resident
Vaccine mandates that are enforced reliably and consistently and social distancing. I know that puts a burden on the restaurant to be the vaccine police and also cuts revenue of the restaurant. I, personally, am willing to pay more so that a restaurant is less crowded and have been seeking out places which do not crowd diners. I also have been avoiding restaurants without vaccine mandates. —Anonymous D.C. resident
I want to see vaccine mandates everywhere—and if the District will not enforce one, individual establishments should. We are well past the point where any accommodations should be made for the willfully unvaccinated, particularly with regards to doing things like eating and drinking indoors in close proximity to others. The overwhelming majority of adults in the region are vaccinated. Instituting a vaccine mandate at restaurants and bars will provide a greater level of safety for everyone—patrons and staff alike—and encourage more people to feel comfortable going out. —Ben, D.C. resident
I really want to see more outdoor dining options. I am incredibly concerned about omicron and upset to see that we don’t have a mask mandate anymore. —Sammy Chavin, D.C. resident
Atmosphere & Information
A lower noise level and a more RESTful atmosphere in RESTaurants. —Anonymous D.C. resident
I would love to see on restaurant websites how much of their seating is reservation based vs walk in so if they don’t have reservations I can decide if I have a chance walking in. —Jessica H., Virginia resident
Menus & Ordering
Editor’s note: Many restaurants started using QR-code technology during the pandemic because it offered a contactless way to peruse a menu and, in some cases, order and pay. Restaurants and bars were also operating with small staffs, making QR codes convenient.
No more QR code menus. Please bring back paper menus. I’ve tried hard for 15 years to not have my head in my phone at a bar or restaurant. I rarely take it out of my pocket and now every restaurant is full of people buried in their devices. —Brian Cooke, D.C. resident
Real menus! —Anonymous D.C. resident
I would like to have paper menus as an option in addition to the phone menu icon. Also, if a server could come take my order, that would be great. And if the server could take care of the payment, that would be awesome. For those who wish to do all of this by phone, it’s a great option, but for some of us it isn’t relaxing to go to a restaurant when it feels like being at work. —Anonymous Virginia resident
It finally seems like real menus are returning, but for those that haven’t yet realized how terribly anti-social and off-putting the digital menus are, please, please talk to your customers and understand that people need restaurants as social venues, and QR menus drive people into their phones and away from each other. The staffing crisis is real and many customers understand that, but that only makes the work of the existing staff more crucial. Restaurants should be looking for ways to highlight that personal connection, not to diminish it. —Anonymous D.C. resident
I would like to see the return of a la carte menus at some of D.C.’s nicer restaurants. Maydan sets a good example that comes to mind. They had a la carte options pre-pandemic but only recently brought back a la carte menu options. A la carte options let people like myself, who are not super well off but like to go to a nice restaurant once in a while for a fancy dinner, experience exceptional cuisine without totally breaking the bank. Additionally, with the addition of service fees for different reasons, it would be helpful to clarify up front or on the receipt, whether employees are still being paid tipped wages or full wages so as to better inform diners. —Anonymous D.C. resident
More affordable tasting menus. —Anonymous Virginia resident
Keep as much outdoor dining as possible! Love the streateries and have been impressed with the outdoor heat lamps, fire pits, etc. this fall and winter. Definitely hoping that continues in 2022 and beyond. —Chris, D.C. resident
Keep the outdoor villas/areas and make them permanent! The restaurants can use the extra money they make from additional patrons year round! —Melissa Nelson, Virginia resident
Tipping & Labor Models
Editor’s note: During the pandemic, more restaurants added service charges to checks as business became harder to predict. Service charges are mandatory and unlike optional gratuities are considered part of sales. Restaurant owners can decide how to allocate the money, including sharing it with kitchen employees. D.C. is also a jurisdiction that allows businesses to take a “tip credit.” Employers can pay tipped workers $5.05 per hour so long as tips bring an employee’s earnings up to or beyond the $15.20 minimum wage. Voters passed a ballot initiative gradually eliminating the tipped minimum wage (Initiative 77) in 2018, but the D.C. Council repealed it. Organizers are currently collecting signatures for a fresh effort with the same goal (Initiative 82).
I would like to see restaurant owners commit to paying staff decently and creating a safe work environment for them. I was appalled at their commitment to the sub-minimum wage a few years back and feel that now is the time for restaurant workers not to have to rely on tipping. —Rebecca Ennen, D.C. resident
More restaurants switching to a no-tipping model, preferably menu prices that are inclusive of service or, second best, a fixed-percentage service charge with a clear statement that an additional tip is not expected. It’s time for restaurants to stop using their guests to determine what their employees should get paid. We don’t have the information or expertise needed to make that decision. —Anonymous D.C. resident
Fair wages for tipped workers! Publicly support Initiative 82. Better paid staff means better service, and I’m done dining at restaurants that pay their staff a sub-mimimum wage. —Gary, D.C. resident
Vegan & Plant-Based Variety
More interesting vegan options at mainstream places like coffee shops, bakeries, and restaurants and more all-vegan establishments like Fare Well, Fancy Radish, Equinox Sunday brunch, HipCityVeg, Shouk, and PLNT Burger. And at all price points and levels of fanciness. —Anonymous D.C. resident
More vegan options please! It’s needed more than ever for the climate, the planet, our health, and the animals. —Kaytie Beasley, D.C. resident
Vegan options clearly marked or as a separate menu. There should be real options not just one appetizer or salad. And, don’t have the icon for vegan but no menu items! It comes across as disingenuous. —Anonymous D.C. resident
Vegan options in each category on a menu: appetizers, salads, entrees, and desserts. Menus that label which items are or could be vegan, especially on the online menu. If I don’t see it online, I’m probably not gonna make the trip to the restaurant. More breakfast items that are vegan and not just avocado toast! —Kelley, D.C. resident
More carry out, especially the fancier options. Even on a limited basis with a couple of set pick up times. I’m probably not going to be eating inside again this winter, but even beyond the pandemic I really like being able to bring a special or more interesting meal home. —Henry Coppola, D.C. resident
Downtown D.C. needs more take-out windows! They’re COVID-friendly, dog-walking friendly, and especially great for walking non-entree to-go purchases like drinks, snacks, and desserts. —Phil, D.C. resident
All of the Above
No more tipping—either mandatory gratuity or reduced service staff and accompanying service expectations like they have in Europe. Mandatory free wi-fi if you use QR codes. A single, clear website with accurate, updated info, events, and menus instead of haphazard, outdated social media profiles spread across three or more services. Bring back paper menus. More comfort food of all cuisines. More German-style lagers and fewer IPAs. More “fine fast” places like CHIKO. Permanently replace parking with streateries. More and later happy hours. More fine dining with beer, not just wine and cocktails. Lower sound volumes. Bring back tasting events like Taste of the Nation. More live music. No more websites where you have to pretend to place an order just to see the menu. More casual steak restaurants like Ray’s The Steaks used to be. —Calder, D.C. resident
I expect higher food costs as I would like to see more sustainable and locally sourced food. This includes restaurants ensuring half their menu is plant based. In addition, all employees at a restaurant should be paid more and get benefits. As this workforce has long been ignored. —Simmy Singh, D.C. resident
Less spatial design and sound systems that make it so that everyone must yell to be heard, no more spaces between tables that only Kate Moss can navigate, commitment from more restaurants to figure out a living wage, more transparency on menus about food sources and production methods, and my all-time pipe dream: more authentic Chinese food in D.C. proper. —Anonymous D.C. resident
More: vegetarian and vegan options, local beers and liquors on the menu, and vaccination requirements. Keep: Outdoor streateries and heated patios, streamlined menus, the mix of having QR codes to order but also a server if you have questions. Less: Confusing charges on the bill. I am happy to pay an automatic gratuity, an extra charge to help cover health care costs, or a standard tip, but please be clear on what I am paying and who it is actually going to. Also, please put your hours and necessary information on your website! —Natalie Weiner, D.C. resident