Here’s Why 2016 Was Rough For Bay Area Restaurants

Most people can agree that 2016 was a hard year. And in the Bay Area, one group was hit particularly hard: restaurateurs. It seemed like every week, a beloved eatery closed, while another one opened, only to shut down a few months later. As the Bay Area continues to enjoy tech-fueled economic growth, the restaurant industry has suffered, even as the accolades–in 2015 Bon Appetit named San Francisco the country’s best food city!–continue to pile up. Everything is expensive: while SF commercial rents have relaxed slightly, the’re still astronomical, forcing chefs to look beyond San Francisco and into the East Bay. The increase in housing prices over the last few years has caused restaurant employees to work farther and farther from their jobs, leading to unsustainable, multiple hour commutes. And on top of all that, food prices continue to rise.

The result of all this? In 2017, the restaurants you go to–from the hole-in-the wall joint near your office to the fancy, anniversary dinner spot–will look different. They might be closed one day a week, to make up for their shortage of qualified staff. Your go-to dish might be more expensive, to make up for the rising minimum wage. They might be closed for good, and quickly replaced with an EDM bubble tea shop. Here are a few of the issues that the industry grappled with in 2016, and how they’re planning for 2017.

This year, Bay Area restaurants contended with the question of how much their workers should make. There were visible struggles, like Oakland’s Fight For $15 protests, where fast food workers joined with child care workers and airport employees to agitate for higher wages. Then there were the less visible discussions about pay, with restaurants still reeling from Oakland’s minimum wage hike in 2015, when it jumped from $9/hr to $12.25. (This year, it rose to $12.55) Most restaurateurs support fair pay for their workers. But the sudden jump–unlike graduated increases, like San Francisco’s, which will raise to $15 by 2018–caused restaurants to scramble, as they tried to scrounge up the money to cover the higher labor costs.

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