Image: Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth in You Were Never Lovelier (1942).
Welcome gentle reader to our weekly recap of activity on our site and other dining news. We had some technical glitches this week, so a light week of posting on our site. But a few interesting stories to flag for you mostly from other twitter accounts, including someone calling out restaurants for the “flat or sparkling water” upcharge trick. So let’s us proceed on the last Week in Review of the year.
Updates to D.C. Recommended Restaurant List
Comings and Goings:
Yellow – The Albi sidekick opened its highly-anticipated Georgetown location.
Noted: We have three Duke’s locations on our list, but it turns out there is a secret one in the British Embassy too! “The embassy Duke’s offers a slightly smaller—and more British—menu than those at [the other] locations.”
D.C. Dining News
Paige Hopkins in Axios does a recap of the tough year for D.C. restaurants, noting that “at least 48 D.C. restaurants have shuttered in 2022, according to the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington. That’s an increase from the 40 closures in 2021.” She notes that the biggest factor was that “The federal dollars ran out.” If only there was a trade group responsible for advocating for restaurants that was committed to the survival of independent restaurants (scroll down), not just the big chains. One question implied in Hopkins’s story is when do the hangover effects of Covid (supply chain, deferred rent, wage impacts, etc.) clear out and let restaurants get back to baseline?
Food and Culture: Uyghur restaurants carry the flag for the persecuted minority in China.
Tricks of the Trade: Diners at fancier restaurants are familiar with the exchange. The server ask whether you would prefer “still or sparkling” water. Disguised in the question is that both those options are not free, but it may work on the unsuspecting. If you want flat but tap you need to add the option yourself to those offered. It is an annoying trick and puts us on edge that more upcharges are going to be pitched. It also targets those least likely to afford the hit, because they don’t dine enough at fancy places to be in on the trick. DC Food Pundit called out the practice this week. And Barred in DC did the obligatory poll. We hope restaurants adjust accordingly. One interesting side effect of this little con restaurants run is that places with in-house soda machines that provide free sparkling often have to explain that it really is free to skeptical diners.
Out of Town Note: Robert Sietsema in EaterNY pays a visit to the Times Square location of Gordon Ramsay Fish & Chips. Like our Sietsema, he is not impressed with the chips (fries). Unlike our Sietsema, he is also not impressed with the par-fried fish which he says lacks flavor. The location of both the NYC and D.C. spots does underline that like Taffer, Ramsay is looking past the locals for customers. Unlike Taffer or Times Square, The Wharf is not as easily accessed by tourists. Start considering your over/under bets now on Hell’s Kitchen getting past the lease renewal point.
Drinking and Not Driving: The National Restaurant Association flags that state laws may lower the permitted blood alcohol limit following guidance from the NTSB. It has been about 20 years since we talked about drinking and driving and what is an acceptable limit. The numbers have flat-lined since then, even as the research points to the need for a lower BAC. We are heading to a point where there is a clear consensus, and it is one serving. Eventually, we may get to a point where instead of emphasizing avoid “drunk” driving, we hold firm to “sober” driving. Underlying the NRA’s concern is the bind of legal liability against lost sales. Interestingly, its training for restaurants flags “intoxication” as the red flag, but for driving a single serving will impair. Recent campaigns have shifted to awareness that “buzzed driving is drunk driving.” But that seems to still imply that drunk driving is the standard to avoid. As the NHTSA site explains, “In 2020, there were 2,041 people killed in alcohol-related crashes where a driver had a BAC of .01 to .07.” Watching Formula 1 the past couple years, the slogan (sponsored by Heineken that is promoting 0.0 beer), has been “when you drive, never drink.” The 80s saw the MADD-driven public awareness campaign and increased enforcement. The 90’s saw stricter application of the .10 limit. The 2000s dropped it to .08. We are overdue for another push.
The Emerging Economy: New inflation numbers garnered positive reactions from both hawks and doves. This was followed by the Fed increasing rates, but not as sharply. Hawks puffed out their chests all year long when inflation seemed to stick around longer than a short “transitory” blip that doves believed was in the works. But what if it was transitory, just in a way that is not usual. For example, if consumers were truly worried about gas prices or long-term debt they would shift to cheaper and more fuel efficient models, but car sales (5 of top 10 are 4 full-size trucks and the Grand Cherokee) say differently.
The Times does a long piece on the future of San Francisco. The city has transformed with each generation and now Covid is making it shift again. It went from being a bedroom community for Silicon Valley to a business center. Now the tech workers are giving up one bedrooms for real houses far from the city and the businesses are giving up downtown flagship locations. Woven into the story is the rise of the salad fast-casual chain phenomenon.
Starbucks workers are gaining momentum. Including in this region. There is an interesting story to be told about how unions matched up with non-industrial workers. Part of that story may be that employers in that sector didn’t think of their workers as prime for organizing, until it was too late. Unrelated to food, in some cases employers didn’t think of themselves as employers, despite doing everything possible to establish themselves as such, until after the employees removed the veneer. For restaurants, the unpaid stage could go the way of the Hill internship.
Don’t Be a Jerk: Bon Appetit on how Russian restaurants are getting hit with the Russia backlash.
That’s it for the week. We will be taking off the next couple weeks for the holidays. We hope yours are filled with joy. If you are in D.C. and looking for a place to eat, keep us in mind. We have 300+ recommended restaurants in our dining guide. You can sort by cuisine or neighborhood in either LIST or MAP format.
Stay warm, be kind, tip big.