Running a Restaurant Week During COVID-19 (The EventBuzz Podcast)

Running a Restaurant Week During COVID-19 (The EventBuzz Podcast)

Jim-Flynn-restaurant-week-PurplepassPodcast speakers: Savannah McIntosh (Purplepass Marketing Director) with Jim Flynn (JSRW Chairman). Jump to links and video notes below. 

The EventBuzz podcast:

Jersey Shore Restaurant Week

 

 

 

Podcast Transcript: Purplepass + Jersey Shore Restaurant Week

 

Savannah (Purplepass): 

Okay, another day another exciting episode with an organization who embraces all things...food. We are talking with chairman of Jersey Shore Restaurant Week, Jim Flynn, who, after traveling and experiencing this restaurant concept firsthand, decided that all the great dining spots at the Jersey Shore should have a week of their own.

The organization's main goal is to encourage diners to experience different local restaurants around them that they might not have heard of before. With the pandemic, 2020 has been a challenging year for everyone to say the least, especially food experiences, and dining in. I'm excited to speak with Jim about the changes they've implemented this past year to continue supporting their restaurants, and plans for future restaurant weeks in New Jersey.

So let's talk food.

So I'll just jump right into kind of like, the different topics I wanted to talk to you about. So I think the first one is to start with, basically what is the Jersey Shore Restaurant Week, and why it was created?

 

Jim (JSRW): 

Well, we actually started at about 12 years ago, and the concept of restaurant weeks, started in New York City about, I'm gonna guess, maybe 15 years ago, maybe even 20. And the idea was to give restaurants a promotional vehicle in times of the year that are generally slow. And so we plan ours in April and November, two of the slowest months of the year for the restaurants. And it's also an opportunity for consumers to go out and try new restaurants, and try restaurants that maybe they thought were too expensive for them. But because of the pricing structure and the value offered during Restaurant Week, it allows them to go out and try some of these restaurants.

So it kind of works for everybody.

 

Savannah:

Okay, awesome. Yeah, I was gonna ask what the benefits would be if I was a restaurant signing up to participate with your week. But that makes sense, because you're doing it for the months that are slow.

 

Jim:

I was gonna say the other thing that happens is that our follow up research with the consumer tells us that consumers go out to dinner almost 50% more during Restaurant Week than they do during a normal week. So, there's more people going out. There's more people visiting restaurants. And then the The really interesting thing is that over 90% of the people tell us that they try a new restaurant, restaurant.

So it's an opportunity for the restaurant not only to get new business or additional business, but but to introduce what they have to offer to consumers that may have never been there before.

 

Savannah:

And any restaurant in the area can sign up pretty much?

 

Jim: 

Anybody can sign up, there's a participation fee. And we provide them with a bunch of marketing materials and we promote the event very heavily, but anybody can sign up.

 

Savannah:

Okay, so for the week when it happens. So how does that work? So they sign up, you have your Restaurant Week, and people can go on and purchase tickets or see who's participating?

 

Jim:

Yeah, they can come to our website, we post all of the menus. So there there are many requirements for the restaurants, they have to offer three courses and three choices within three within those three courses. Now they have to offer three appetizer three entree and three dessert choices at a price.

So for a full service restaurant that has a liquor license, their their price is $33. And we have change as always the year so $33.21. And the smaller restaurants or restaurants that are more kind of like a pub restaurant, they offer the same three courses, but there's this $23.21.

 

Savannah: 

Gotcha. Okay. I was wondering how that work. That's that's a cool idea.

 

Jim:

Well, you know, what happens is that the consistency is something that the consumer really likes, they know that whatever restaurant they go into, that participates in Restaurant Week, during Restaurant Week, they're going to get three courses. We're going to be offered free courses and three choices with an eat at a set price. So, you know, they're not going to go to one restaurant and it's gonna be $33. And another it's gonna be $35. The pricing is is constant throughout.

 

Savannah:

And I believe I'm correct when I say that you had to postpone the Restaurant Week this fall are in 2020. Correct?

 

Jim:

Yes. Well, no, we we actually did it in the fall. We canceled the April one.

 

Savannah:

Oh, yeah. Okay, so are you guys planning a events yet? For 2021? Are you just kind of feeling it out?

 

Jim:

No, we are we have set up. Restaurant Week for the third week in April, which is a little bit later than we normally run it. We kind of felt like the later we could do it that the more normal the world would be. So we pushed it to a little bit later in April.

 

Savannah:

I think that's what everyone, everyone's plan is like, let's push it back. But that was everyone's plan to like, 2020. Like, let's push it back, it'll get better. 

 

Jim:

Well, you know, we had when we first cancelled the one in April 2020. We kind of thought, Okay, well, things will be better in a couple of months. So we said, we'll do this in June and by then everything will be fine. Well, obviously, that didn't happen, but well, it was we did a takeout event in June.

 

Savannah:

Oh, How'd that go?

 

Jim:

It went great. You know, the consumer was just kind of getting used to the whole takeout concept, you know, and, and this offered them an opportunity we promoted the restaurants, we promoted their takeout offer was, and it really helped the restaurants, it helped them to pick up some extra business that might not might not have gotten before.

 

Savannah:

Yeah, so how did you guys run that event? I'm just curious. 

 

Jim:

We just promoted you know that the restaurants provided us with the hours that they were going to offer takeout and you know, how it would work, whether it was curbside pickup, or, you know, however, and we just promoted it that way. And the consumer had an opportunity to go to our website and see who was offering what and what their ground rules were.

 

Savannah:

Nice. Okay, so, as you guys like, you're having the event come up in late April. So when you move forward hosting these events, how, I'm just curious, are those going to be takeout or are they going to actually be dining experiences?

 

Jim:

You know, they'll be the dining experiences where, right now in New Jersey, you can have indoor dining with 25% capacity. So we're hoping that that will be increased by April, but if not, you know, it'll, it'll just, it'll still be away, you know, the restaurants will be coming off of a very difficult winter.

And, and so having a promotional event like this, and in April should be a real boon to their business. So at least that's what we are hoping. 

 

Savannah:

Yeah I'm hoping too! I'm glad you guys have at least some capacity inside, which is nice. Instead of having to, like make it work outside. Do you know, I mean, I know you're just promoting it for the restaurants, but have you ever heard like, have any, what they're kind of doing to be really like cautious about, you know, keeping guests safe, kind of easing their mind into attending?

 

Jim:

Yeah, you know, the, one of the things that we see is that people are dying to go out, you know, we're all human beings, we're social, we like to go out, we like to see people and talk to people. So people are looking for restaurants who are kind of going the extra yard to keep them safe.

And we're going into restaurants, where the staff is all wearing masks, they're wearing gloves, that the tables are set apart. You know, they're they really are being cautious about how they run their business. We've been in others, and they don't. And so, and just personally, we won't go back until things are normal just because, you know, we we went into one place and half of the staff behind the bar had a mask on half didn't. Some had gloves on, some didn't.

And we saw one bartender, reach into a jar to get lemons or limes, with no gloves on. You know, that's the place I'm not going to go back to.

 

Savannah:

Yeah, that's a good point.

 

Jim:

Yeah. But then there are others that are so good about it, and you just feel you feel comfortable. You feel like, no, this isn't gonna be an issue here. And so you'll go back and we have so you know, that's kind of what I what I what I tell restaurants is if you make people feel comfortable, I'll keep coming back even during this whole thing.

 

Savannah:

Yeah, so what would you say like after so COVID hit, and you guys had to obviously postpone your events but like moving forward, or during that time, what do you think was like the biggest adjustment for you guys in the beginning? I mean, trying to navigate COVID? And what were some of the things you guys had to kind of figure out that maybe you could offer some tips to other people that might be out there still trying to figure it out?

 

Jim:

Yeah, but, you know, once we realized that we weren't going to be able to do our events, then we kind of shifted into, "okay, how can we help the restaurants" because, you know, they were they, at the beginning, they were looking at this thing, as you know, that the, they were totally shut down at one point.

And then they were allowed to do takeout and then ultimately, you know, allowed that do some indoor dining, but some of them were just really, really creative. And the ones that were fortunate to have outside space, some of them did an amazing job in creating a very comfortable space outside under temps and, you know, some of them built, you know, structures that I've never seen before.

And, and so they, they kind of just went with it and figured you know, if we're going to survive, we have to really be creative, and be able to get people in here and serve them and make them feel comfortable. And the ones that did that, have come through this, then pretty well, I mean, I've heard, I've heard restaurants tell me that this past summer, was their best summer ever.

And I think the reason for that is that some of them were able to, you know, build spaces outside that were almost as big if not bigger than their indoor space.

 

Savannah:

Well, they're lucky. Because I just went to this past like month, I went to New York City. And it's crazy, because obviously, they're really they're only doing the outdoor dining. It's really lucky for those restaurants that have the space to do it, but then you see the other ones that there's no space where they can put anything outside. And it just like breaks my heart.

But like the ones you said, they're really creative with it. And they have the heaters they like have everything thought out and I even saw the little like domes and the bubbles, everyone's it's kind of making it another different type of experience when you go out to eat now.

 

Jim:

Yeah, and, you know, there's a big move here in New Jersey now to get the governor has two bills before him, that everyone is urging him to sign in they're to extend outdoor dining until the end of November 2022. And, you know, there's really no reason not to do that and, you know, for the for the people that have the space. And, and for the consumer people love to eat outside.

And even if it's under a tent, it's just good for the restaurant industry, it's good for business. And some of them, we have one, one place here and in my my local town, where their tent space was, was almost twice the size of their indoor space. So then, when they were able to do some indoor, they had a much bigger restaurant and then they started with and that ended up being great for them. So, but we're hoping that the governor will sign this and allow the restaurants to have outdoor dining for the next pretty much two years.

 

Savannah:

Okay, so I get what you're saying now, they so they aren't we wouldn't technically be allowed to have the outdoor dining.

 

Jim:

Yeah, in New Jersey, unless you have you already have an approved space like a patio or something like that, you can't do outdoor dining. So all of these, you know, structures and tents and things that people put up, you know, we're we're against what existing laws are. So they're trying to get those change.

 

Savannah:

Yeah, okay, I didn't event think about that. Yeah, cuz some people have, like you said, big spaces, and it's cool. It's fun. It's like you camping.

 

Jim:

Yeah. There's another one over in the next town over, that built a beautiful structure that's almost nicer than a regular restaurant. Yeah, they've got and they've got music typed in and they've got heat, and it's just great.

 

Savannah:

Yeah, it's definitely a different experience. I think the other thing I wanted to ask you is since you do help, do the promotions for the restaurants and get the word out there for like the marketing aspect, how did you guys make that transition to letting your guests and your customers know like, "Hey, we're doing this is what's happening" like how have you been, how have you stayed in communication and connected to your guests during this time?

 

Jim:

We we do a lot of social media. And and and you know, not just regular social media posting, we do social media posting and post them and so that we, so that we reach more people. We also were fortunate to have some of the local radio stations when we were in the middle of the the worst part of things back in April, we went to some of the local radio stations. Town Square media, which has probably five or six local radio stations and we said, "we need your help, you know, the restaurants are really struggling. We're gonna do a takeout event would you help us promote it and not charge us". And what I said to them was when we get back, you know, to normal, then I will run a a regular radio schedule with you.

And they stepped up, they did a wonderful job in promoting takeout event last June. And then when we did our our November or October Restaurant Week, I went back to them to thank them and and scheduled a radio promotion with them.

 

Savannah:

What a good partnership I, I feel like people really underestimate the power of radio and honestly, traditional marketing sometimes because we are a digital world and it works. But sometimes the people just forget, like traditional ways are stronger. It depends, but I know a lot of promoters are talking to you and they're like, "yeah we do radio". And I'm like, Yeah, I don't know why people people forget about that radio.

 

Jim:

Yeah. Well, and you know, well, what was nice, I mean, everybody was going through so, so many horrible things. But everybody was willing to help each other and, and that was really heartening, you know, I mean, people stepped up and said, "Yes, we will. We will help promote this for you to help the restaurants and we're not gonna charge you" and, and they were gonna, they were gonna wonderful two weeks scheduled for us.

So it was it was great. Yeah.

 

Savannah:

I'm glad. Yeah. I'm glad you guys had that happen. That's awesome. People have really stepped up during this. I mean, you see everyone's true colors and we're all willing to help and support locals.

And then, before we close out, I did I noticed on Purplepass you guys had events coming up in March. Is that accurate?

 

Jim:

Yes.

 

Savannah:

That's not part of the Restaurant Week, right?

 

Jim:

A number of years ago, we started an event that originally we called Jersey Shore Wine Weekend. And we rebranded a couple years ago to call it Jersey Shore Food and Wine Experience.

We do it, we know it in and February, usually, just because, you know, people are always looking for something to do in the middle of the winter. So we wanted to do it again this year, but we pushed it out in March again, to give us a little bit more time. And, and to kind of rethink how we're going to do something like, you know, one of the one of the elements of the weekend is usually a grand tasting, which is a walk around event.

And so we said you know what, I don't think people are going to be ready to do a walk around event. So we're going to do the grand tasting as a seated event and we'll have six foot tables, and only two people at either end of the six foot table. And they'll be served their tastings.

So we'll be able to accomplish the same thing, but in a much safer way. And so that's another thing that's happened with with all of this is that, you know, you've got to kind of rethink how you're going to do events. You got to you got to rethink it a little bit make sure that everybody's gonna be safe and and that everybody's gonna be comfortable.

 

Savannah:

So if people you said it's only two people, but if you came with a family, would they be able to all sit together?

 

Jim:

Well, we would sit them you know, I don't know, probably. Yeah, I mean, I, I don't want to, you know, start right off breaking my rules. You know, if you had a group of four groups of six, you could put them you know, tables in front of each other so they could turn around and talk and that kind of thing, but still be spaced them.

So we'll, we'll work through it we'll figure it out and make sure that everybody's good with it.

 

Savannah:

I'll have to talk to you again and see how that goes. Because I just like getting everyone does such different things. The creativity that comes out it's it's fun talking to all the different promoters. I just talked to a museum director and they actually decorated their like plexiglass with this special specialized stickers customize it, and it looks like part of the museum. 

 

Jim: 

We did an event in October and again, it was normally a walk around event. And people go up to a table and they would get some. So what we, what we changed about it is that all of the samples all the tasting were plated beforehand. So people were handed a dish that had the food in it rather than, you know, taking it from a display or something like that.

So and people were grateful, you know, they enjoyed it. It was a little bit different and everybody felt safe. So, you know, that's kind of the key, not only to really keep them safe, but to ensure that people feel safe is almost equally as important.

 

Savannah:

Yeah, I think, honestly, people are going to be just happy that they can go somewhere and do some things. I don't see anybody complaining that, you know, oh, this is different. I think at this point, everyone's like, oh, people hi!

 

Jim: 

Yeah, just let me get out.

 

Savannah:

Yeah, I don't care what it is. That's awesome. I'm glad you guys have been working through it, figuring it out. Before I leave you, is there any tip or thing you would like to mention, just to our listeners that are mostly event promoters, organizers out there? Trying to navigate COVID? Or, you know, make it through?

 

Jim:

Yeah, you know, as I said before, recognize that people want to go out right now, I mean, but they want to be safe. So they're going to go to places that they feel safe and they're going to go to events where the event promoter has, has told them upfront what what things are being done to make them safe, and to make them feel safe.

So that when they look at an event, we're actually going to add some things to our event listings that help what protocols we're going to be implementing, so that, you know when people come in, they see the event and they may find it attractive. We want them to know right up front to make sure that they're comfortable.

 

Savannah:

Yeah, that's a good idea just to list out everything, "hey, we're gonna do this what's required, you have to wear a mask" that too, because I know some people you know, some people are like, I don't want to wear a mask. So it's good to tell them like, hey, you got to do this, this this or just don't participate in advance.

 

Jim:

Yeah. And the event that we did in, in October, it was outside, but we took everybody's temperature when they came in, we made sure that everybody wore masks when they were walking around. So, you know, people are pretty good. You get that a few every now and then, you know, want to be rebels, but tell them that they have to leave.

 

Savannah:

Yeah, and awesome. Thanks so much, it's a quick conversation and I'm glad I got to talk to you and that you made time for me this morning.

 

Jim:

Well, thank you. I appreciate you reaching out

 


 

Video notes and links

About JSRW: 

Jersey Shore Restaurant Week

Upcoming events

Jersey Shore Food and Wine Experience

Resources: 

Tips for announcing new event safety protocols 

20 tips for taste and food handling events during COVID

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