Where is lunch? Lunchtime meals at fine dining restaurants may never come back | Food news and features


War Mouth chef Rhett Elliott laments the sound of cutlery and voices in the bar on a weekday afternoon.

Now the Cottontown restaurant is empty at lunchtime. And while Elliott doesn’t necessarily miss the long days of serving lunch and dinner, he does miss seeing the lunch regulars.

“There was a feeling that you were, people coming in, we were having a good lunch, so I miss making people happy (at lunch),” Elliott said.

Lunch, once a midday ritual for many, has become a casualty of the pandemic at many Columbia restaurants. And while some places are reintroducing lunch hours, restaurateurs fear it won’t be the same.

“I would say business is different, because of COVID, because there are just fewer people in the offices,” said Eddie Wales of Motor Supply Company Bistro. “Lunch habits have started to change over the last five years or so, even before COVID, where people, you know, there are so many more options for people. People don’t eat as much at lunch anymore. They don’t make it as much of a meal.”

Vista’s longstanding establishment in the city has not seen lunchtime crowds return to pre-pandemic levels, Wales said. And while the pandemic has allowed Motor Supply to introduce weekend brunch, which Wales says has been a success, he doubts weekday lunch will ever be what it once was for Columbia restaurants.

Nearly 60% of working Americans can do their jobs from home, according to a Pew Research survey from earlier this year. With fewer workers returning to the office and more cooking at home, long-running dining establishments are struggling to bring crowds back.

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The owner of Mr Friendly’s New Southern Cafe, Ricky Mollohan, said he had also noticed the crowds starting to dwindle in recent years. The decades-old Five Points spot started serving lunch again earlier this month, after a break of more than two years during the pandemic.

“I was really thrilled that they’re reopening for lunch just because it’s so much more convenient for us to meet, you know, during the day,” said Danielle Robinson, a Columbia resident who said that she came there for lunch. for years.

Like most dinner-focused restaurants in Colombia, Mollohan brought dinner back first when restaurants began to reopen after the pandemic hit. He waited to bring lunch back as he lost staff during the pandemic and didn’t have enough people to maintain both meals.

“I think you see it a lot in town and across the country where you have people who just want to keep doing things the way they always have and when you don’t have the same staff…when you don’t have not the flexibility of schedules, when your products are hit-or-miss as to whether they arrive or not, it can be difficult to maintain that pace,” Mollohan said.

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War Mouth, a Cottontown restaurant that serves Southern classics, has been closed for lunch for more than two years, with no plans to bring back lunch. Photo by Hannah Wade.

But for less established lunch spots, COVID-19 has helped restaurants make easy choices. For places like Cottontown’s War Mouth and Vista’s COA Agaveria y Cocina that never really drew large lunchtime crowds, the switch to dinner-only service has been welcomed.

At War Mouth, the pandemic has cut staff in half and as the restaurant has not fully restocked staff, lunch hours have not been reintroduced – and there are no plans to do so any time soon.

The restaurant, which has stood off Columbia’s North Main Street for nearly seven years, is in a location that doesn’t make it a prime location for lunchtime foot traffic and has never really had a solid crowd for lunch, according to Elliott. After more than two years of battling the pandemic, Elliott said the decision to bring back lunch was not top of mind as the restaurant continues to focus on recovery from the past two years.

“I would say we’re semi-normal now, but I guess that’s the whole thing with lunch, it’s like we’re not even there yet. It’s like, you know, going through a breakup and you’re not ready to date again,” Elliot joked.

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COA Agaveria y Cocina in the Vista also focuses more on dinner, although it offered lunch on pre-pandemic days. Owner Christian Macias said when COVID-19 started he finally decided it wasn’t worth bringing it back.

“People loved (our lunch) but there just weren’t enough people to keep it going and COVID was kind of like an excuse…to kill lunch, which I feel like a lot of restaurants have done,” Macias said. .

So while some Columbia staples like Motor Supply and Mr. Friendly’s are reintroducing lunch and continuing to offer upscale options during the day, it looks like lunch will remain a casualty of the pandemic for some Columbia restaurants. .

Mollohan said while lunch was popular at Mr. Friendly in the past, dinner is still the biggest breadwinner.

“I think it’s always been more realistic to go back to dinner numbers that we used to do than lunch,” Mollohan said. “You know, you don’t want (lunch) to be the ugly stepson, but I mean, it is. It’s convenient, it’s quick, but it’s never going to be a dinner for whoever will wear it.”


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