Restaurants are on the way back, but not like they were before, an easy part of everyday life. You can see where the current path might lead, on to a new normal.
Outdoor dining is the first step, but it isn’t a no-brainer for operators. They’ve fought every day for the last two months to find a way to survive. Take out, pick up, curbside, delivery — restaurants have experimented with these strategies, some with more success than others.
Now some are organizing outdoor dining — hunting for tables and chairs, putting up umbrellas or tents, expanding onto sidewalks and parking lots. The lucky ones that already had seating outside are updating for social distancing and trying to figure out what will work best. Everyone wants to do it right so customers will know they’re cared for and will be safe.
For some locations, it just doesn’t work. Those restaurants will wait until they can seat inside.
As Kim Severson said in the May 18th New York Times, “Restaurant owners are left to devise their own practices, puzzling out how to minimize the health risk, and reassure some customers without alienating others.”
Restaurateurs are an independent, resilient, creative bunch, ut at least here in Norwalk, they’ve had some professional help navigating these uncertain waters.
Norwalk Now is a marketing partnership organized to promote small businesses in Norwalk. Sponsored by the Norwalk Parking Authority and led by Director Linda Kavanagh, it has promoted Norwak as a destination for dining, shopping, leisure and lifestyle. Its information-packed website, real-time calendar, and exclusive events all effectively spread the word for local businesses.
But with Covid 19, all that came to a screeching halt.
Norwalk Now shifted gears to support businesses, particularly restaurants, as they coped with a new reality. With expertise about on-line ordering, menu design, computer systems, and graphics along with advice on how to implement new ways to serve customers, they were able to help participating restaurants with the nuts and bolts of staying in the game.
Norwalk Now is able to provide a marketing team and media muscle not usually available to small businesses — all at no charge. Social media platforms reach tens of thousands. Professional photos and media materials are available for marketing. The organization is a clearing house for information and promotion.
As restrictions begin to loosen, Norwalk Now is ramping up its marketing and social media efforts. Their VIP Text Club sends members specials from Norwalk businesses. Recent offers have included free appetizers or desserts from Basso Cafe, Tavern on 7, and The Silver Star. Text “Norwalk Now” to (855) 262-7753 to get started.
Basso Cafe manager Ela Benedetti was among the first to make an offer through the VIP Text Club. She likes the “nice-looking and well-produced” materials and communications from Norwalk Now. With a partnership between Norwalk Now and tech media company Go Nation, there is a direct link from Norwalk Now’s social media to the restaurant’s web page.
With their size, focus, and expertise, Norwalk Now is able to bring more sophisticated platforms, software, and public relations than small businesses can easily get on their own.
Anthony Pirralgia, owner of Oak and Almond on Main Avenue, looks forward to hearing from Kavanah two or three times a month. “She keeps us motivated to do new things,” he said. Norwalk Now is, “responsive to independent restaurant needs.”
At Washington Prime in SoNo, owner Rob Moss is appreciative of the marketing expertise provided by Norwalk Now. “All the restaurants in SoNo work together,” he told me. “Norwalk Now makes it easier to collaborate on marketing and promotion. The small businesses here don’t all have the necessary media savvy and resources for today’s world. Norwalk Now has been a great help to all of us.”
Originally set up to bring business to Norwalk, Moss explained that Norwalk Now is working inside the business community to build infrastructure and social media presence. According to Kavanah the organization has more than 14,000 contacts on Instagram and Facebook.
“It’s an integrated system,” Moss said. “Any change to my website is automatically updated to the Norwalk Now platform.
When I spoke to Moss, it was day three of outdoor dining. “So far it’s been busy, with customers across all demographics. People want to get out, especially when the weather is fine.” Dinner is by reservation only. If rain is forecast, Washington Prime won’t be able to book any tables. It will be back to take-out only.
Restaurants are hoping for the green light to serve both inside and out, with proper social distancing, of course. When that happens, and it will, Norwalk Now will be ready to spread the word.
Frank Whitman can be reached at NotBreadAloneFW@gmail.com