The recovery of San Francisco’s restaurant industry is front and center as Fall Restaurant Week kicks off this Friday. The 10-day event, which runs from Oct. 21 to Oct. 30, will feature more than 180 restaurants across the city and focus on elevating Chinatown businesses.
Organized by the Golden Gate Restaurant Association (GGRA), the event will be marked by limited prix fixe lunch, brunch and dinner specials with the aim of balancing both affordability for patrons and rising costs for restaurateurs.
Before Covid, SF Restaurant Week was an annual citywide event that sought to promote local businesses and benefit a chosen charity. When the hospitality industry descended into pandemic free fall, the GGRA decided that the restaurants themselves needed to become the main beneficiaries.
“It was really important to start to see how we can help the restaurants come back,” said Laurie Thomas, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association. “And we did.”
After the CDC scaled back dining restrictions in 2021, the association added a springtime component to Restaurant Week help expedite the industry’s recovery from shelter-in-place. Earlier this year, realizing that restaurants were struggling to recoup food costs in the face of inflation, the group increased one of the suggested prix fixe price points to $75 for a three-course dinner with wine pairing. It also retained lower price points to keep the event inclusive to both restaurateurs and diners.
“It's just really scary,” she said. “We raised our prices in my two restaurants a little bit in the spring. And we're going to start looking at budgeting in November and say, ‘How do we make this work?’”
For the fall event, Thomas’ team focused its energies on increasing representation from Chinatown’s restaurant community, which she said was disproportionately impacted during the pandemic. Fall Restaurant Week includes 25 Chinatown restaurants—about 18% more than the previous event. Many of Chinatown’s eateries are mom-and-pop establishments, like Bow Hon and Delicious Dim Sum, and Thomas told The Standard she wanted to pay particular attention to those independent businesses.
“We've really tried to focus on Chinatown because we were disappointed that we didn't have enough restaurants represented in the spring,” Thomas said.
Myron Lee, who volunteers with a coalition of Chinatown residents, merchants and property owners called BeChinatown, worked with the GGRA to bring Chinatown restaurateurs into the fold. According to Lee, the Chinatown restaurant community has grappled with a unique set of issues.
“They are still dealing with the effects of shelter-in-place and xenophobia over the past few years,” he said. “Frivolous ADA lawsuits, rising costs and break-ins continue to challenge these struggling businesses.”
Lee also pointed out that Chinatown restaurateurs come up against structural barriers when participating in citywide events like Restaurant Week, like the time-consuming process of translating Cantonese menus into English. In an effort to promote Chinatown restaurants during the event, the Chinatown Volunteer Coalition compiled a map to every participating restaurant in the neighborhood.
GGRA will also host a series of ticketed events during Restaurant Week called Eat Drink SF, including a four-course dinner at chef Mark Dommen’s One Market Restaurant, featuring preparations by chefs Charles Phan of Slanted Door, Mourad Lahlou of Mourad and Belinda Leong of b. patisserie on Oct. 21 and a closing brunch at Chinatown food emporium China Live on Oct. 30.
Looking ahead to next year, Thomas said she hopes to incorporate more restaurants in Bayview, a historically Black neighborhood, as well as Latino-owned businesses. “This is not meant to be an elitist list,” she said. “It's meant to be for all kinds of restaurants throughout the city.”
The city lost half of its restaurant jobs during the pandemic, and Thomas said the industry is in need of a big boost.
“We want to try to support everybody that still has their doors open as much as possible so we don't lose more restaurants.”