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2014: The Year in Food 

Tuesday, Dec 30 2014

When culinary historians look back on 2014, will they remember that chicken wings were a big deal? That ramen was suddenly everywhere, that a handful of breweries opened, that the city saw a resurgence in oyster bars? Or will they consider this the beginning of a sea change in the way we think about the restaurant? I'd hope for the latter, because this was the year that the transformative forces of tech finally infiltrated the dining scene and challenged conventions — like tipping, reservations, and delivery — that we've long taken for granted. Chicken wings and ramen will be replaced with equally arbitrary foods on 2015's trend lists, but the reverberations from this year's institutional shakeups could be felt for several more to come.

Reservations were the first thing to come under fire this year, after a handful of startups began scalping reservations at popular tables, prompting a flurry of hot takes about the purpose and efficacy of the reservation system in general. A few prix-fixe restaurants in town, Lazy Bear and Coi, even ditched traditional reservations altogether in favor of Tock, the all-the-rage advance ticketing system developed by a Chicago restauranteur that treats meals like sporting events or concerts. Tock investor Thomas Keller plans to adopt the system at the French Laundry next year, which will no doubt prompt many others to shamble along after.

Restaurant tickets are all-inclusive, eliminating the need to tip — a practice that some in the industry say is outdated as S.F. begins its three-year climb to $15 minimum wage and restaurant owners scramble to retain talent in an increasingly crowded and expensive market. Restaurants like Bar Agricole, Comal, Camino, and the upcoming Aster have announced that they'll switch to a flat 20 percent service fee to help cover costs and even out the pay discrepancies between front- and back-of-house. Oakland's Toast has developed a hybrid tip/service charge model. Expect the concept of tipping to evolve in 2015 and beyond.

It was a good year to be a recluse, as the city saw major strides in food delivery technology. Startups like Sprig and Spoonrocket started offering cheap, healthy-ish lunches and dinners that could be ordered with a few taps of an app and arrive like magic 10 minutes later. If you were seized with a specific craving, Caviar and Postmates were willing to fetch you takeout from more or less any restaurant in the city. And Instacart made it possible to get groceries from Bi-Rite and Rainbow delivered in less than an hour, which proved to be a godsend if you were busy or sick or just terribly lazy.

Other things that happened: Local high-end restaurateur Daniel Patterson announced a partnership with L.A. chef Roy Choi to open a healthy, affordable fast food chain, beginning with one of the Tenderloin's most dangerous corners. Berkeley became the first city in the country to pass a soda tax. Tartine and Blue Bottle announced expansions to Tokyo. America's Statistician Laureate Nate Silver concluded that La Taqueria made the best burrito in the country, which led to predictably long lines and complaining about said lines. Courts ruled that Yelp could charge restaurant owners for higher ratings on the site, prompting an outcry and maybe the beginnings of a backlash. Beloved Bay Area establishments like Incanto, Cuco's, Joe's Cable Car, and Drake's Bay Oyster Company closed for good, but long-awaited sequels to Brenda's French Soul Food, Bar Agricole, Magnolia Brewing, and State Bird Provisions finally opened. And despite the disruptions, the city kept turning on its culinary axis.


About The Author

Anna Roth

Anna Roth

Anna Roth is SF Weekly's former Food & Drink Editor and author of West Coast Road Eats: The Best Road Food From San Diego to the Canadian Border.


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