SOUTH KINGSTOWN — When it’s winter in South County, the restaurant business slows down, yet in this new year COVID-19 fears and restrictions continue their chokehold that make a declining profit situation worse.
To help these owners boost revenues, the Southern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce plans to reward frequent diners with chances to win up to $1,000 in gift certificates for various local businesses.
“When is the slowest time of the year for restaurants?,” mused Joe Viele, chamber executive director, then quickly answered, “After the first of the year, then with a pandemic, it’s even slower and with social distancing even slower than that.”
The long-running effects of the pandemic are still hurting restaurant businesses around Rhode Island, state officials said, pointing to an estimated 17% decline over last year. Business groups around the state are looking for ways to help counteract another year of declining revenues.
Viele said that Elizabeth Berman, former executive director, called him with the idea for the give-away, which begins Feb. 1 with the chamber collecting patrons’ receipts, runs through May 31. The campaign is called “Eat-Drink-Support.”
In essence, the drawing will work this way: For every dollar spent, a person gets one or more entries. From Monday through Thursday, each dollar recorded on the receipt gets two entries and from Friday through Sunday it drops to one for one, he said.
The object is the get more people to patronize – takeout, indoor and curbside – these chamber-member restaurants during the week days, but as well offer a smaller incentive for weekend orders when there’s more business, he said.
A list of the more than participating restaurants can be found at srichamber.com, the organization’s website.
“I fully expect that much of the business will come from takeout or curbside orders because of the pandemic restrictions and people’s general reluctance to go dine inside,” Viele said.
Outdoor dining, while allowed, isn’t available or sought much due to the current cold weather conditions, he added.
The winners would be chosen from those who email the chamber (firstname.lastname@example.org) a signed copy of their dining receipt, including phone number, but with any credit card numbers blocked out.
The chamber would then keep a continuing tally for each person of the dollars spent.
The contest will feature for February, March and April a $50 chamber gift certificate in a random drawing of a name from the pool of those collected for each month. The receipts from the previous month are also carried forward to help increase eligibility.
After the May monthly tally is taken and all receipts for the four months tallied, a drawing for three grand prizes will be held in early June. At that point the chamber will award a $500, $250 and $100 gift certificate.
The pandemic hit that restaurants are taking shows in the decline of the 1%meal and beverage taxes going municipalities. A 17.4% reduction jumps out in the latest state report, which covers fiscal year-to-date for October 2019 and October 2020.
In that same period, Charlestown had a 29% loss, followed by decreases of 18.2% in Narragansett, 13.1% in South Kingstown and 6.7% in North Kingstown.
State officials made a point in the report that overall losses stem from monthly cascading restrictions on restaurant owners’ operations.
Joe Paglia, owner of Arturo Joe’s, 140 Point Judith Road, Narragansett, said he welcomed the chamber’s efforts for his and other businesses in South County.
“I think it’s a good idea. The number one thing people ask me is, ‘Are you doing indoor dining?’ I think a lot of people don’t know what’s going on. We need to get the buzz going,” he said about his restaurant that does offer limited inside seating.
With some increased demand gone from Christmas and New Year’s holidays recently passed and a long wait for the spring tourism season to begin, some pick-me-up is needed, he said.
“I think this can definitely help to stimulate people and (also) help bring some confidence back,” he said, sapped by continuous pubic service messaging about avoiding indoor eating establishments.
The chamber’s Viele said he hopes this local stimulus effort works.
“Because they didn’t have the summer they usually have, it was even more challenging. They always need us in the winter, but they really need us this year,” he said.