Last year at this time, Maine Restaurant Week had just squeaked by before an emerging pandemic forced Governor Janet Mills to issue an Executive Order declaring all bars and restaurants close down on March 18, 2020.
“I’ve had people tell me the last time they ate inside a restaurant was last year, ” said Gillian Britt, Maine Restaurant Week co-founder.
The week, designed to boost the visibility of the restaurant industry in Maine, is always held in the first two weeks of March, typically the worst time of year for dining. It allows people to explore a new restaurant at a reduced prix fixe price by using MRW’s website to find special dining options in various regions of Maine.
Now in its 13th year, MRW is still forging ahead, but with more flexible parameters.
“All year we’ve been talking about what March will look like and how we can support the restaurants,” said Britt. “We’ve talked to restaurant owners and got a feel for their situation to see if they could even handle being part of Restaurant Week.”
Participating Local Restaurants
- Five in Camden
- One in Rockport
One of the first changes Gillian and her husband and partner, Jim Britt made was to eliminate the fee for a restaurant to sign up and participate. Sponsors underwriting Restaurant Week this year have made that possible.
As PenBay Pilot reported back in May, restaurants were already strapped in a pandemic with shortened staff, reduced hours, and a restricted number of diners that could be allowed indoors. Without the cushion of a robust economic summer, many of these restaurants were facing short-term or permanent closures come winter.
Turns out, more than 70 restaurants have jumped aboard MRW, and according to Britt, more than a dozen are new or from different geographic regions in the state.
The main difference this year is the format. Not wanting to put any more pressure on the restaurants to continue the traditional three-course menu that MRW has always used, restaurants have the freedom to make their own special deals.
“We left it up to the restaurants how they want to do it this year,” said Britt. “A lot of the restaurants that have participated in the past might be still using that three-course formula, but I’m noticing some innovative options too, such as The Vintage Room in Camden. It isn’t a restaurant, more like a tasting room lounge, but, they’re doing a pairing of three bites and three wines.”
Another new change, due to the pandemic, is now listed on the website, filtering each restaurant by indoor dining, outdoor dining, and a curbside option for ordering.
“When we created Maine Restaurant Week, March was the time when restaurants were really struggling, but as the food scene has grown over the years, I’ve had chefs tell me that MRW has been about as busy as August,” said Britt. “So, to now be in the midst of this pandemic point, this is exactly what Restaurant Week was created for—to boost interest in the restaurants in our communities and that’s what we continue to do.”
For more information visit Maine Restaurant Week’s website.
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org