“One of the negative trends we are seeing is pricing,” said Alan Dietrich. “We are seeing prices that are exceeding what the town would really like to pay for going out. We have prices that rival Seattle or San Francisco. A $13 burger in Bend is more than I’d like to see.”
He added, though, that it is not price—expensive or inexpensive—that matters, but that the food and dining experience matches the price.
“I expect a certain level of performance out of a five-star restaurant,” he explained, “and different from a brewpub, and I’m equally happy if I get what I’m expecting.”
That idea was echoed by the other panelists, who pointed out that restaurants in Central Oregon are increasingly doing a good job matching their food, service, and ambiance to customer expectations.
“Although they aren’t the fanciest,” said Meiko Lunetta about Jackson’s Corner and Spork, “I think their food is delicious and for a great price.” She added, “They’re the places I want to show off when my friends come to town.”
Our panel members had no trouble listing favorite restarurants, but a few nudged even their favorites to strive for a bit more.
“[A lot of] restaurants [are] serving the same food....burgers, pizza, fried food,” quipped Chef Bette Fraser. “We can be so much more than that, if we tried.”
Chef Thor Erickson, with the Cascade Culinary Institute, also urged local restaurants not to be too complacent. “Food service workers should take more pride in their work and what they do,” he said. “It’s a hard job: Do the best you can and make it beautiful.”
But mostly, the panel offered positive observations.
Nathan Boddie commented that high-quality restaurants and food carts are reaching farther into various neighborhoods, and are not only clustered around the usual locations. “The trend toward more café, sidewalk, and outdoor options is exciting and works well with our climate and outdoors-minded population,” he said.
That sentiment was shared by Erickson, who pointed out that there is more accessibility within menus themselves. “[There are] more ‘small plate offerings,’” he explained. “This allows guests to order a variety of different items and have a more realistic portion on the plate.”