The Changing Landscape

The nature of dining out is complicated.

Restaurants go to great lengths in these competitive times to carve out their share of the market. That is especially true here in the East Bay, where new restaurants have been springing up like Chanterelles after a winter rain. What’s driving the burgeoning industry, and how is it faring in this increasingly heated economy?

This month’s restaurant package considers the changing restaurant landscape from a variety of angles. One article asks a question almost unthinkable for anyone who likes to eat out as much as I do: Is the restaurant market oversaturated? Other stories consider trends in tipping, and wheels versus bricks and mortar. Finally, we explore the full-scale ramen madness that has elevated these humble noodles to new heights. To paraphrase one local restaurateur, ramen is the new pizza.

It’s a complicated industry, one that reacts to influences as disparate as employment trends, wage hikes, skyrocketing rents, health care costs, and, of course, culinary trends. To thrive, local restaurants need customers with discretionary income to buy their food. But where those customers come from is another matter. Being a local resident these days presents its own set of challenges.

At the moment, there is a critical housing shortage of it in the Bay Area, and as a result, rent and real estate prices have gone nuts—particularly here in the East Bay. Whenever employment grows, as it has throughout the Bay Area in recent years, housing is always very slow to follow. That, of course, just exacerbates our vexing housing problem. It has become the most important—and most talked about—issue of the day.

So housing is the other hefty component in store for our readers in this issue. One article reviews the pitfalls and pivotal moments of residential and real estate development in Oakland and beyond, while another considers the severe Alameda housing shortage caused by the draconian Measure A. Will impact fees come to Oakland? Will Alameda ever embrace housing construction and the traffic mitigation that must accompany it? Like all issues, the answers are complicated, but they are well worth pondering.