I am all in favor of San Francisco’s $13 per hour minimum wage (which rises to $15 by 2018), plus mandatory paid sick leave, parental leave and employer health care contributions. But labor costs at restaurants are inching past 50 percent of total expenditures, an indicator of poor fiscal health. Commercial rents have also gone bananas. Add the ever-rising cost of frisée and pastured quail eggs and it’s no wonder that many restaurants are experimenting with that unique form of sadism known as “small plate sharing,” which amounts to offering a big group of hungry people something tiny to divvy up. Even nontrendy joints now ask $30 for a proper entree — a price point, according to Mr. Patterson, that encourages even affluent customers to discover the joys of home cooking.
THIS is all fine at the handful of places that are full and profitable every night — State Bird Provisions, Lazy Bear — but, according to Gwyneth Borden of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, an alarming number are not. The bigger tech companies worsen the problem by scooping up culinary talent to run lavish free food programs that, as Ms. Borden said, offer workers “all-day bacon and lobster rolls and tacos.” This kills the incentive for employees to spend a penny in restaurants, especially at lunch. (Ms. Borden also told me that she can’t count the number of times she has heard an Uber or Lyft driver confess to being a former chef.)
Constant traffic jams and great restaurants in less congested cities like Oakland discourage suburbanites who used to cross the Bay Bridge for date night in San Francisco. Besides, as Mr. Patterson says, the city clears out on holiday weekends. “They all go to Tahoe,” he said. “You want to get a reservation somewhere? Just book a table during Burning Man.”