So what have we learned? Well, for one, the restaurant bubble will not burst like the stock market. There will not be massive simultaneous closures -- different cities will be affected at different times, some places may hang on years, often propped up by personal savings or an owner who either doesn't care about losses or refuses to see the writing on the wall.
But for the average city diner, the bubble bursting will have very real consequences. For one, most sit-down dining will, in many ways, revert back to what it was in the '80s/'90s: reserved for special occasions. And this is for the simple reason that restaurants need to universally raise their prices to keep affording to pay their workers and buy food and serve you a choice of sparkling or still water with your house-baked bread and house-cultured butter (this will also serve as a gut check for the mass of people who claim to be for changes to restaurants that result in paying fair wages, but as soon as they see higher prices themselves as a result of said wage increases, immediately forget their lofty talk and take to Yelp to complain).
But then again, more and more restaurants will also opt to go the other way, and become hip iterations of fast-casual restaurants, with smaller menus, counter service, and a skeleton crew of front- and back-of-the-house staff. "The age of the cool counter-service bar is upon us," says Semmelhack. Big-name chefs are already moving away from their sit-down restaurants to join the fray: Chef James Holmes shuttered his nationally lauded Olivia restaurant in Austin and turned it into Lucy’s on the Fly, the fourth location of his fast-casual fried chicken concept, and just a few weeks ago, the celebrated chef of NYC's Del Posto, Mark Ladner -- owner of a four-star review from the NY Times, and a Michelin star -- announced he'd be leaving at the end of January to open his own fast-casual Pasta Flyer joint.
Until the point of over-saturation, the places these chefs are creating, the cheaply hip, fast-casual counter joints, will thrive. You can already look to spots like Hat Yai in Portland, New Orleans' Company Burger, and Honey Butter Fried Chicken in Chicago to see that that model currently works. Combine that with the proliferation of well-curated food halls -- Atlanta's Krog Street Market, New Orleans' St. Roch, Revival Food Hall in Chicago, Pearl in San Antonio, etc. -- and the aforementioned rise of app-based dining, and it's hardly a question why most casual fine-dining restaurants are endangered.
And maybe that's fine for the diner, who will surely adapt and maybe even appreciate saving some cash while still getting most of the trappings of the cool sit-down restaurants, and maybe it's even good in the long run for the restaurant industry, as the lack of capital forces people to get creative and experimental. But that doesn't change the fact that the current owners and chefs who've poured all their savings and passion into restaurants open now will never be able to get that money and time back.
What we're witnessing, as you see this rise of both the high and low end, is the hollowing out of the restaurant industry center -- the gentrification of food, carried to its logical conclusion. You had something that was interesting and a great value, it attracted everyone, and now all that's left until a rebirth is extravagance or thrift.