What we should demand from our restaurants (and what we should expect when we get it)

by Bill Schindler | Jun 28, 2024

100% scratch sandwich from sourdough to lunchmeats to condiments at the Modern Stone Age Kitchen

We have set the bar for restaurants in this country far too low for far too long. The modern industrial food system has convinced us that we should focus on things that their misaligned infrastructure can easily provide and, unfortunately, we have been listening. In place of substantive qualities, the average customer expects cheap food, large portions, and menus that never change from the places that they frequent. The general assumptions that our food should be exactly the same no matter the day of the year or where in the world the franchise is located are only possible to meet through a global network that abuses the environment, animals, and its workers. Focusing on these shallow qualities has distracted us from what is really important and what we should expect, and even value, in our restaurants.

Thankfully, more important values such as local, homemade, seasonal, grass fed, grass finished, organic, regenerative, hormone free, antibiotic free, free range, cage free (and the list goes on and on) are becoming more common buzzwords in our restaurant lexicon today. Apps such as 12 Spoons and Seed Oil Scout provide easily accessible information about restaurants to make informed choices. In fact, most of these terms are even searchable through more mainstream apps such as Yelp! 

Demanding what we want from the people that make our food is important because consumers have incredible power to help direct the future of the restaurant industry. And, in turn, restaurants have the ability to contribute a great deal towards creating the change we need in our food system. In other words, individuals collectively demanding more from the restaurant industry can result in meaningful changes in the food system. The change begins with you, and a lot of other people, simply demanding real, genuine, nourishing food from the establishments that are feeding you.

Realistic Expectations

Meeting customer demands to create and offer healthy, meaningful food is not easy for any restaurant. It is not as simple as a restaurant owner waking up one day and deciding to make such a monumental shift, no matter how much they might want to. The entire food system is screwed up and it is difficult to redirect the course of this behemoth.

Restaurant owners working to change the system and produce nourishing meals are fighting all sorts of battles including:

  • Mortgages, loans, invoices and payroll that must get paid no matter their ideological perspective,
  • An industrial farming system based on subsidized crops that create a non-realistic economic imbalances,
  • Food safety regulations and laws that have developed in alignment with a deteriorating food system focused on mass produced, dead food and,
  • Customer expectations do not always align with the reality of what is needed to make these changes.

Many of us say we want local, seasonal food prepared properly, but in order to achieve that goal we need to be willing to dine outside of our comfort zone. What I want to spend time here exploring is how to align the perception of what customers want in their food and the reality of what they can expect from that experience. There are some things customers should ALWAYS expect from the restaurants they frequent, and some things that they can expect to be in a constant state of flux.

What should always remain constant:

  • Positive atmosphere of the restaurant 
  • Dedication to the food, nourishment, quality of the food
  • Healthy relationships with farmers, ranchers, foragers, and small food suppliers
  • Healthy relationships with their team 
  • Healthy relationships with customers
  • Waste repurposing, reduction and composting

What we can expect to always be in flux in a real system that is meeting the goals we set for it:

  • Menu – not just specials, but significant portions of the menu 
  • Successes and failures – new ingredients require new techniques and approaches
  • Chefs who go out on a limb experimenting produce foods with varying sizes, shapes, flavors, look and feel 
  • Prices – sourcing from local farmers and ranchers requires flexibility 
  • Product availability – making nourishing food from local ingredients is never as standardized as ordering bulk finished products from a food supplier.

Certainly, this is a deep topic with tons of nuances. I have only scratched the surface here. The main point, however, is that if we expect important changes in our restaurants then we need to be flexible enough to accept variation in our expectations. Keep in mind, most of our expectations are a result of massive marketing campaigns clearly targeted to support a food system that has been headed in the wrong direction for decades. Our health, and the health of our planet, have suffered as a result. Please, don’t stop demanding what is really important to you from every aspect of our food system. But, equally important, please consider the totality of what these changes require and be kind, patient and flexible as we all work towards a more nourishing, ethical and sustainable food system for the future.

Dr. Bill Schindler

Director & Founder of the Eastern Shore Food Lab
Executive Chef at the Modern Stone Age Kitchen 
Adjunct Associate Professor University College of Dublin

About Bill

Dr. Bill Schindler is a food archaeologist, primitive technologist and chef. He travels the world with his family documenting traditional food ways and works to draw inspiration from the deep archaeological record, rich and diverse ethnographic record and modern culinary world to create food solutions that are relevant, meaningful and accessible in our modern lives. He shares all these stories in his book, Eat Like a Human, and puts the recipes into practice at his family’s Modern Stone Age Kitchen in Chestertown, Maryland.


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