The Atlantic

The Dumbing Down of the American Restaurant

Tom Colicchio, the celebrity chef, thinks 50 percent of restaurants may not survive the pandemic, and that they’re going to have to change.
Source: Michael Loccisano / Getty

Three months ago, one could have easily argued that restaurants had reached their zenith of cultural and economic significance to the United States. But the coronavirus has dragged restaurant spending down 60 percent, and $3 out of every $4 is going to chains. The golden age of restaurants may be coming to a sudden end.

Tom Colicchio, the celebrity chef known to many Americans as a head judge on Top Chef, has been one of the more vocal advocates for restaurants during the pandemic. He’s also been relentlessly dire about the near future of the restaurant business. “Restaurants have become a part of culture,” he told me, but “the boom times of the last few years are over … Restaurants are going to have to change.”

We spoke this week about the tough present and future of the U.S. restaurant industry. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Derek Thompson: One month ago, you said that you thought 50 percent of America’s restaurants would. Are you now more or less optimistic about the future of restaurants than you were a month ago?

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