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Industry Experts on the Biggest Dining Surprises and Grievances of 2019

Local food writers weigh in

Carpaccio di Gamberi at Il Dandy
Il Dandy
Sam Wells

As is Eater’s annual tradition, we’re closing out 2019 by surveying local food writers (including our own staff) on various restaurant-related topics, and we’re publishing their responses in these final days of the year. Readers, please feel free to chime in with your own thoughts in the comment section below.

Today’s questions: What was your biggest dining surprise and dining grievance in 2019?

Dining surprises:

Michael Gardiner, San Diego CityBeat: The Italian explosion. San Diego has long been a place for copious examples of unexceptional Italian food. Then, this year, the artisan pasta of Monzù was joined by Caffè San Luca, Cesarina, Ciccia Osteria, Siamo Napoli, Il Dandy and more. I didn’t see that coming.

Candice Woo, Eater: The sad and shocking implosion of The Patio Group and the fallout that has left so many restaurant spaces vacant and so many employees displaced.

Michele Parente, San Diego Union-Tribune: The flame-out of Claudette Zepeda at El Jardín. That San Diego was not ready for an ambitious regional Mexican restaurant makes me sad, especially in a year that saw a real step forward in the quality and sophistication of the region’s restaurant scene.

Dining grievances:

Beth Demmon, San Diego Magazine beer columnist: Businesses who added a surcharge to their menu and blamed it on a rising minimum wage. The entire concept of patrons subsidizing employee wages is absurd and demonstrates how broken our current restaurant and hospitality system is. I can’t wait for tipping --- a systemically racist, classist, sexist, and oversight-free practice --- to be abolished in mainstream dining in the United States. (I can dream, can’t I?)

Michele Parente, San Diego Union-Tribune: Restaurants that continue to pay meticulous attention to food, décor and craft cocktails but let distributors put together their mediocre, over-priced wine lists. A particular problem with new restaurants, I probably paid more in corkage fees in 2019 that I ever have in any other year.

Caron Golden, San Diego Foodstuff: Noisy restaurants continue to get noisier. More and more chains are taking over local restaurants.

Michael Gardiner, San Diego CityBeat: The march of the restaurant groups. It seems inexorable. In 2019 nearly every major move was made by either a local restaurant group—like the Cohn Restaurant Group, Consortium Holdings, Trust Restaurant Group or Puffer-Malarkey Collective—or an out-of-town group like the MINA Group. While they bring obvious advantages—not the least of which is money—they also contribute to the caution that has seemingly come to characterize our restaurant scene

Frank Sabatini, San Diego Community News Group: There’s a problem with training and information sharing when servers (and in come cases dining-room managers) don’t know the names of the chefs and/or owners of the restaurants in which they work. I’ve encountered this often all year. Truly, customers are never in good hands when this is the case.

Ian Anderson, San Diego Reader: If I’m being petty? Marketing emails. I appreciate when POS systems like Square or Clover are sophisticated enough to email receipts. But it turns out, I really don’t want restaurants emailing me to talk about themselves on a regular basis, especially considering I haven’t opted in. What I can’t figure out is whether the worst culprits are restaurants I already didn’t like, or whether something so seemingly insignificant as an unsolicited email has been enough to leave me with a bad impression.

Josh Kopelman, DiningOutSD: Not enough surly bartenders.

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