We thought 2020 was going to be HashtagTheYear, and in its own way, we suppose it was. It was the year small, locally owned spots found out just how Support-Local Omaha really was, or wasn’t. It was the year we learned how delicate our food supply chain truly is. This was the year we ordered more takeout than ever before.

The year to reassess how we are doing so many things. While this may not have been that year, hindsight is always 2020. While looking back at a dumpster fire is tempting, we are more than ready to look forward. Let’s take a look at The Reader’s predictions for what 2021 holds for Omaha’s Culinary Culture.

Pantry items

As many diners brushed the dust off of their pots and pans last year, restaurants found a unique opportunity to bridge the gap between fine dining and their clientele’s cooking skills. Providing pantry items like signature sauces, house-made pastas, jams, and soup mixes can make home-cooking less scary, not only for the new home-chef, but for their victims… er. Family. We expect to see more packaged pantry items being made available from your favorite local spots.

Meal kits

Somewhere between dining out and DIY lives the until-now underappreciated and under-utilized meal kit. Subscription boxes were a good idea, but chefs putting their signature sauce on the package is a great idea. Expect your favorite local restaurants to start offering build-your-box options for varying skill levels. That means anything from heat-and-eat to a gourmet recipe box with prep instructions.

Ethical food delivery

A few years ago, we predicted food delivery would take off, and we were absolutely psyched. 2020 was exactly the year for delivery services to boom, but it’s true what they say; Never meet your heroes. What we didn’t, and likely should have predicted, was how quickly the practice would become predatory.

While food delivery apps target vulnerable workers for quick, no-contract work, they take advantage of both the drivers and the restaurants they serve. Not only are drivers making a pittance, customers are often unaware that much of the tip they add is cut directly back to the service, and not the driver.

Incredibly problematic, delivery apps virtually bullied restaurants into joining by listing them on the app without ever actually contracting with the restaurant themselves. This forced restaurants to either submit to service (losing upwards of 30% on each transaction) or be inundated with complaints about orders placed through the app but never delivered. Tack on the addition of “ghost kitchens” and we can’t imagine how we ever rooted for these guys.

While the current method of delivery is deplorable, it’s been an integral service to maintain the accessibility of restaurants amidst the fluctuating directed health measures. But rather than lament its failures, this is a perfect time to address where these services could improve. I predict a revolution in delivery methods, and innovations between patrons and restaurants to make it happen. Look for delivery co-operatives and in-house options in 2021.

Mindful munching

The connection between our health and our habits has become blindingly clear over the last several decades, but has perhaps never been more evident than now. While there is so much outside of our control, minding the aspects of our health we do have a handle on feels more critical than ever. I expect to see an influx of “mindfulness” brands touting smarter snacking options, but better than that, I expect a little more personal accountability.

Twists on distance dining

We’ve seen the first whispers of innovation this year, as some establishments introduce “dining bubbles,” but those are proving to do more harm than good. Expect to see improvement as we become more spatially aware, as well as becoming more spoiled by the prospect of not having to sit so close to strangers on uncomfortable Tinder dates. We anticipate the introduction of tiered dining, alternate hours, and a re-imagining of outdoor eating areas.

Tipping like you mean it

Humanizing the people who make and serve your favorite dishes has been on The Reader’s short list of goals for decades, but this year did a lot of that work for us. We have watched as the subject of your local gripe-group Karen’s tirade has become her only link to the food she couldn’t cook herself. Your local Yelp Yodeler often took restaurant staff to task for his order being seven fries short of a super value, but he’s learning to eat what he gets or be satisfied snacking on his words. We hope that the consideration diners are suddenly feeling for the service industry isn’t a flash in the pan, and that tipping reflects the respect these “essential workers” deserve.

The team at The Reader is thankful for the lessons we learned in 2020, and for the community that kept so many of our restaurants above water. We want to extend the most gratitude to the teams who went above and beyond to make dining safe through this roller coaster of a year. We are thrilled to see what can become of the potential 2021 holds in store. Welcome to the future.

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