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    The Art of Dining

    By David Landis, The Gay Gourmet–

    Growing up outside Chicago, our family didn’t have a lot of money. But one thing we splurged on from the time I was a kid? Going out to dinner. I guess it was destiny that my later-year career would be as a food writer.

    Dining out in the 1960s meant dressing up, donning a suit and tie, and making yourself look—well, “Hello, Gorgeous!” After all, it was a special occasion. Perhaps we only dined out every couple of months, but it was an event. Our parents made sure that we not only looked good, but also acted the part. Any misbehaving and you were sent to the car (and not invited out again for a long time!).

    But in a conversation recently with an esteemed local chef, we began to wonder: is the art of dining dying out? There seems to be a trend, especially in the Bay Area, toward casualness:ordering at the counter or with QR codes, servers that are robots instead of human beings, diners in hoodies and tank tops, and ultimately, an experience that is less of a formal occasion.

    I was wondering if that hypothesis was just that or something more. So, I decided to ask the professionals, i.e., our local chefs and industry insiders, for their opinion. Here’s what they said:

    Giovanni Liguoro, Poesia Café

    “San Francisco is the city where the trends are born and raised. In the hospitality industry, we are following this new tech trend. But in my opinion, it is important to maintain the humanity, and the high-level standards of hospitality between humans. Example: I love it when the waiter comes to my table and explains to me the special of the day, or when the sommelier explains to you the last wine that arrived in the house, and how it pairs with the wine (or the drink perfectly with the meal). Nothing can be compared to the moment when the chef comes to your table and asks how the dinner is going, and which one was the favorite dish of the table? After that, he explains why he prepared and matched this flavor and texture together. All this is an experience that robots and technology will never replace.”

    Kathy Fang, FANG Restaurant

    “There is a trend I notice, especially with younger clientele, where they prefer to use their phones to look up menu items, photos, and choose on their own, versus looking at the physical menu and/or listening to the server make recommendations. People want everything faster and sooner, with a push for the ability to pay via QR code, and check out without having to wait for someone to physically do it in person.”

    Chef Martin Yan, Yan Can Cook

    “Technological advances have always been a part of every commercial kitchen. Efficiency and economy are always the driving forces. These are true today and true in the San Francisco Bay Area. Visit any sizeable commercial kitchen around the world, and you will find the latest in food automation. It’s inevitable. Be a part of it or prepare to be left behind.”

    Francesco d’Ippolito, Owner, Poesia Restaurant

    “As a small business owner, I’ve noticed a shift in how things are moving, and have had to adapt accordingly. At Poesia, we always strive to provide a personalized experience that goes beyond just serving good food. It’s crucial to ensure that our guests feel recognized and welcomed, so they don’t feel like just another customer—but rather a part of our community. Will middle of the road fine dining still be an option? I think so, and I really hope so. High-end fine dining can be prohibitively expensive for many consumers, while fast casual dining may not always satisfy those seeking a more upscale experience. Middle-of-the-road fine dining strikes a balance by offering a more affordable option without compromising the quality of the experience.”

    Jeff Davis, Palm House

    “For fast casual restaurants, I believe the trend started during the pandemic and continued through current times. QR codes were introduced for touchless dining, and they stayed. They allow for less staffing, and to assist with labor costs, but don’t necessarily affect service touch points. QR codes eliminate the service steps of taking an order, walking to a POS station, inputting that order, dropping a check, running back to a table to pick up the check, and then closing out the check. Servers and managers can be more focused on guest experience. It also allows for large parties to pay on separate checks without the whole, ‘Venmo me’ thing at the end of dining. Restaurants do need to be flexible, though. Not everyone likes QR ordering. I personally prefer a menu and a server, so our staff still needs to be trained on standard service when needed. We switched over to this model last year. It’s had its ups and downs, but overall has been truly successful. Guests are definitely getting more accustomed to the technology.”

    George Chen, CEO, China Live Group

    “There’s plenty of room in the middle, as that’s where most people still dine. High-end will struggle as the economy slows, and low-end, fast casual is more commoditized. In the middle, we incorporate the best of both luxury and convenience at China Live with robots, and seasonal farm-to-table cooking, but the key is ‘experiential’ dining. People have plenty of meal replacements but still want the buzz of an environment and human interaction without breaking the bank; hence, why China Live is the 3rd highest grossing restaurant in the Bay Area.”

    Matthew Accarrino, Restaurant Director, SPQR

    “We are definitely entering into a pivotal time where the relative costs of human labor are increasing, and that is driving prices and thoughts on where to go next. In the end, service-based industries like restaurants are trying to find the balance. No one wants to endlessly raise prices, but no one can absorb the increased costs to already meager bottom lines. Is it driving the considerations around dining format and service options? Will the customers be willing to participate more in dining out to pay less? Think of the trajectory of the airline industry in the last few decades. Certain amounts of automation in reservations, ordering, and service could be opportunities, but at what cost to the ‘experience’ of dining out?”

    Andrew Freeman, AF and Co (Hospitality PR) and Leith Steel, Carbonate (Hospitality Marketing)

    “We have been hearing some buzz about the loss of the middle (fine casual or upscale dining), and we don’t believe the restaurants in the middle are going anywhere. We know many people/chefs feel that way, but we believe there are so many factors at play here:

    First, location: If you’re in a vibrant neighborhood where a lot of people live, the middle (table service, etc.) is very much alive. In San Francisco, our downtown and Financial District areas have been hit harder than just about anywhere else in the country. So, we have seen reductions, and a turn to more fast casual spots. But the world is truly coming back. As people return to work, and conventions continue to increase (albeit slowly), the restaurants in the middle (like Perbacco, One Market) that have held on will hopefully continue to get busier and busier. New restaurants, like Alora, are emerging.

    Second, cost of doing business: The costs of running a restaurant continue to escalate. These factors have indeed played into smaller menus, with a limited number of items or prix fixe menus. So, one of the trends we’re seeing is affordable prix-fixe menus (like Trestle and 7 Adams), or counter service by day and perhaps full service by night. Lines are being blurred as restaurants try to figure out how to navigate their rising costs without impacting the guest experience. So, we expect to see more flexible and fluid dining experiences. We do believe the emergence of more higher end dining, with controllable prix fixe menus, is exciting. Even though the city has experienced challenges, there are still quite a few locals and visitors who are true dining enthusiasts. They still have the means to support these restaurants. We do hope that some of the recent layoffs at the bigger tech companies may only temporarily impact these higher end restaurants. We believe this trend will level off as the ‘middles’ re-emerge. More and more diners will want to spread the dining dollars to experience more everyday dining out options. The competition among the super high-end experiences is (still) quite fierce.

    Third, guest experience: We believe that, even with fast casual, guests want human interaction again, so we will see less and less of the QR code. The novelty of robots may stick around, but automation and technology will be more behind the scenes. This will help restaurants become as efficient as possible without compromising quality.

    In summary: We don’t see the middle going anywhere (at least we hope not). Market, cost, and guest demands will determine what types of experiences make sense for each area. We do know this: low, middle, or high—guests today want memorable experiences, quality, of course, and more and more reasons to come back.”  

    Bits and Bites

    I had the chance to sample some extraordinary products from family-owned Silver Spring Foods—and they’re scrumptious. The wasabi sauce is a winner for just about anything, and their siracha sauce adds an Asian flair. But the home-run is the prepared horseradish, which adds a delightful bite to your cocktail sauce for seafood, or as a side dip for your next prime rib family dinner.

    Amazontella’s cupuaçu spread is, to quote the company, “a delicious and exotic fruit spread made with the aromatic and tart cupuaçu fruit.” The Gay Gourmet concurs. It “adds a touch of sweetness to your breakfast,” or wherever you like to spread your fruit!

    More good news! According to The San Francisco Chronicle, “The Hyatt Regency San Francisco’s rotating space will spin again … plans are underway to open the space to the public as a ticketed happy hour venue called Club Revolve.” Stay tuned for opening dates. And I say “yay” to sit and spin!

    Finally, yours truly is taking a break to mend an old knee. I’ve got a few guest columnists who are filling in for me, but watch for my return, probably in July. Farewell, but just for now!

    FANG Restaurant:
    Yan Can Cook:
    Palm House:
    One Market:
    7 Adams:
    Silver Spring Foods:
    China Live:
    Hyatt Regency San Francisco:

    David Landis, aka “The Gay Gourmet,” is a foodie, a freelance writer, and a retired PR maven. Follow him on Instagram @GayGourmetSF or email him at: Or visit him online at:

    The Gay Gourmet
    Published on May 9, 2024