New Year's Resolutions For The Dallas Dining Public; Plus a Few from Our Food Writers

This year we resolve to eat many of these charcuterie boards a Petra and the Beast.
This year we resolve to eat many of these charcuterie boards a Petra and the Beast. Alison McLean
It was around 46 B.C. when Julius Caesar decided to fiddle with the calendar and made January 1 the start of the new year. The month of January was named after the god Janus, a two-faced deity who Romans believed symbolically looked back at the previous year while looking ahead to the new year. Romans offered sacrifices to Janus and made promises of better behavior in the coming year, and the concept of New Year’s resolutions was born.

The idea of improving one’s behavior is a common theme for resolutions, usually focused on one’s self. However, if there’s something we’ve realized while covering the Dallas dining scene during the pandemic, it's that our collective behaviors seem to have regressed. So in the spirit of the season, we’ve come up with some resolutions for Dallas’ dining public that would improve on some bad habits that seem to have developed.

Unlike that promise to lose 30 pounds, these resolutions are easily doable. And better yet, the improvements we’ve come up with aren’t just selfish; if we can accomplish these things, everybody wins.

Resolution #1: Stop complaining about the price of eating out.
click to enlarge The price of protein is up across the board. - ALISON MCCLEAN
The price of protein is up across the board.
Alison McClean

The pandemic’s impact across all facets of the economy has been an eye-opener to almost everyone. It’s been a butterfly effect on a truly global scale; the impacts of one business seems to make waves for everyone else, and with everyone forced to change in one way or another, the turbulence seems never-ending.

The recent spike in inflation means everything costs more for everyone, and your favorite local restaurant is in no way exempt. Before it was a daily topic of the nightly news, we started seeing this on social media, where it became a common thread to post a picture of a meal from a restaurant and complain about how much it cost, or how much less food one was getting for the money. Your author watched this first hand in a popular barbecue group on Facebook, where the complaining became so common that moderators had to step in and put the brakes on any further posting of the topic.

Inflation is very much real, but putting a restaurant on blast because they’re trying to keep up with a meteoric rise in their costs is counterproductive. Yes, you can cook a meal for less at your house. No, most restauranteurs aren’t raking you over the coals in favor of a quick buck. Restaurants, along with thousands of other small businesses, struggled to stay open during the pandemic, and flaming a business that is trying to make ends meet isn’t going to magically end inflation. If anything, your bickering on social media only makes it harder for these small businesses to get new customers to come in.

Resolution #2: Stop taking your frustrations out on the waitstaff.
click to enlarge Service industry workers are calling it quits for good. - ILLUSTRATION BY JOÃO FAZENDA
Service industry workers are calling it quits for good.
illustration by João Fazenda
Restaurant owners have faced a reckoning when it comes to staffing. Nationwide, workers in the hospitality sector are getting paid more than ever, which has been long overdue. But it may not be enough: help wanted signs hang in almost every bar and restaurant, and proprietors have asked customers for excessive amounts of patience due to staffing issues.

Kristina Rowe took a deep look
into where these former waiters, bartenders, cooks and busboys have gone, and there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to why it’s been difficult to restaff the service industry. But there is something you can do to help: stop being an asshole.

Now, we’re not saying that if there’s a problem with your meal, you shouldn’t alert the staff. Almost every restaurant relishes repeat business, and many will go out of their way to correct a problem if it means making you happy. But a long wait for a table, being asked to comply with the latest mask mandate update or a change to your favorite item on the menu is no reason for you to go full Karen on the first member of the waitstaff you see.

“Consumers are now part of the labor shortage problem, because the employees are basically saying life's too short to put up with this,” Lisa Miller, a marketing, strategy and innovation consultant who heads up Dallas-based consumer insights company Lisa W. Miller & Associates LLC, told Nation’s Restaurant News in November.

Kindness has been replaced with near apoplectic levels of rage at even the slightest infraction, and frankly, long-time service industry employees are tired of the bullshit. We’re all stressed from the last two years, but unleashing your fury at a waiter or waitress who puts their health at risk to serve you a meal is never the answer.

Resolution #3: Don’t be a ghost.
click to enlarge If you order it, be sure to pick it up. - ALISON MCLEAN
If you order it, be sure to pick it up.
Alison McLean
Among all the changes that have taken place in the last two years in the restaurant world, perhaps the biggest has been our transition to getting food to go. We should know: for almost all of 2020, our restaurant stories revolved around exploring Dallas' restaurant scene through takeout orders, delivery boxes and reheated leftovers.

Restauranteurs have known this for a while, but services like UberEats, Grubhub and DoorDash can cut into a business’s bottom line, and many of us now prefer to place our to-go orders directly with a restaurant. But that comes with a new challenge: diners placing orders then never picking them up.

Jon Alexis of TJ’s Seafood Market has been in business for 32 years. Reluctantly, Alexis had to start collecting payments over the phone for call-in orders after abandoned meals cut into the bottom line.

“Our most popular takeout item is our lobster roll, and it's $39. We were getting at least one a day left. Do that math on that,” Alexis says.

It’s not just abandoning your food that’s become a problem; ghosting on reservations is also on the rise. Many restaurants we’ve contacted have experienced the issue firsthand. If a large number of reservations come in, the restaurant needs to make sure they are staffed to handle the influx (which we already know is a challenge). But when reservations end up as no-shows, the restaurant eats the labor and prep cost.

Online reservation service OpenTable noticed the problem and sent out an SOS earlier this year. “Show Up for Restaurants” was an initiative aimed at highlighting the effect no-shows have on restaurants. “At a time when restaurants are facing staff shortages and more financial pressure than ever, they count on every diner that made a reservation to show up. When they don't, restaurants could lose their entire profit margin for that shift,” OpenTable stated in a release.

Educating diners to the costs restaurants bear when we don’t show up can certainly help. We all know plans can change, but it’s easy to do your part, and call a restaurant to cancel your reservation as soon as you know you won’t be there.

Resolution #4: Spend your dining dollars wisely.

Whether we’re dining in or getting takeout, restaurants are important to many of us in Dallas. For the 10  years leading up to 2019, food and drink sales in the restaurant industry nationwide steadily increased and reached over $773 billion in 2019. While the pandemic put a major dent in that figure, a recovery is underway.

Our first three resolutions aimed to address certain negative aspects that have crept in during that recovery.
But our final resolution for 2022 ties all of these together in the language we all speak: money. The recovery needs our help to heal a fractured industry, but we can be smarter with how we spend our dining dollars.

We talked of practicing more patience while restaurants restaff, but our former food critic Brian Reinhart took this a step further earlier this year: We should support restaurants that pay their staff well.

“There’s a body of nationally renowned workers with unique skills who have subsisted for years on peanuts, left in the cold by a system that has long demanded they accept minimal compensation for their work,” Reinhart wrote. “They should get paid.“

We can play our part by supporting the restaurants that treat their staff the best. That doesn’t mean eating at the most expensive places in the city, but it does mean changing our long-held thoughts about how the restaurant business operates. For the general public, an easy guide is to support places where you see the same staffers time and again; long-term employees are usually a sign that the business is treating them well.

You can also support your favorite restaurant by stopping in during the week. Leslie Brenner, who now works as a restaurant consultant after spending eight years as the restaurant critic for The Dallas Morning News, says the customers have a role to play in ensuring their favorite restaurants make it through the post-pandemic rough patch.

“Your favorite restaurants are in danger of disappearing if you don’t show up, or if you only show up on a Friday and Saturday night. If you only show up on Friday and Saturday nights, then you’re only going to be able to go out on Friday and Saturday night.”

In short: Be nice, dine often and tip well, and we’ll all be better off in 2022.

We also queried our writers for some of the resolutions for 2022. Aside from eating everything everywhere and writing about it, here's what they have in mind:

Jeff Siegel
"Try not to get so angry when too many wines, even though made by different producers and coming from different parts of the world, all taste exactly alike. And remember that the joy of wine is trying different things, no matter what anyone else says."

Angie Quebedeaux
"After spending the holidays in the Big Apple eating Cuban, Chinese, Indian, Lebanese and Persian cuisines, my 2022 foodie New Year's resolution is to find a new ethnic restaurants to try in Dallas at least once a month throughout the year. And by ethnic, we’re not talking about Tex-Mex."

Taylor Adams
"Eat something other than Hanoi fudge from Dude, Sweet Chocolate, eat more goat cheese and cook one new dish a week. The big goal will be somewhat related to that last one. For years, my mentors (a couple) have chosen one cuisine a year to focus on. They still cook their typical dishes, explore other cuisines (they cook a ton, and they cook well) and still regularly get nachos from Lakewood Landing. But they're intentional about regularly exploring new dishes in one type of different cuisine each year. Last I heard, they were looking at Russian (I tried to get them to say Soviet so they'd get some Eastern European greatness, but we'll see). In my household, we're looking to Cantonese — something I love to cook regularly, but I'll actually go for dishes I've been too timid to try."

Doyle Rader
"The past two years of dining have been interesting, to say the least. Delivery and takeout service dominated the experience, for better or worse. In 2022, I want to sit down and have more meals inside restaurants, if we're allowed to dine-in (thanks, delta, omicron, et al.). I plan to venture out from the go-to spots I frequent and try new-to-me places I've been reluctant to visit, I want to return to old favorites I haven't been to in a couple of years, and I want to eat inside — or on a patio, weather permitting. Food delivery is fine in a pinch, but it simply can't replicate the experience of a good meal in a local restaurant."

Felicia Lopez
"I would like food discoveries to involve less planning and more spontaneity. I love what I see on my social media feeds, but something unexpected may end up being special. I would also say more veggies in 2022, but we all know how that goes (sorry, doc). With that said, I am on the hunt for great chili cheese fries."

Didi Paterno
"I've given up annual resolutions a long time ago. In this pandemic, I've given up on, let go of, even more things.There are a few things, though, I've resolved to keep. I will not give up on local, family owned restaurants. I will not give up on the fight for fair wages for all restaurant workers, tipping even more because everyone deserves to earn a decent living."

Amy Meyer
"I am a pizza snob. After a lifetime in the Chicagoland area, I have been spoiled by the best pizzerias around. Despite the rumor that we’re obsessed with deep dish, the layers upon layers of cheese are saved for special occasions. Friday nights consist of thin, perfectly crispy, square cut, tavern-style slices. I am so ruined by Chicago that since coming to Dallas, I haven’t even bothered seeking out a worthy replacement. In 2022, I promise to give the DFW pizza scene a chance."

Kristina Rowe
"This year I had some truly amazing multi-course meals, and I'm planning to have more in 2022. I've always liked to dine alone, order an entrée with sides and be done with it; time is precious. But food is precious too and enjoying an appetizer and a soup or salad before the main course lets me explore a wider variety of foods and flavor profiles. Of course that means I also have to start saying "yes" to to-go boxes and remembering to eat the leftovers before they go bad. That one's gonna be a lot harder."
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Chris Wolfgang has been a contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2015. Originally from Florida, Chris moved to Dallas in 1997 and has carried on a secret affair with the Oxford comma for over 20 years.
Contact: Chris Wolfgang