If you were hoping to snag a three-course meal for $35 at the Prime Rib this month, you’ll have to wait.
The Baltimore groups that host the city’s biannual Restaurant Week have canceled the event, which usually takes place around January and July.
The promotional event from Downtown Partnership and Visit Baltimore is a time of discounted, pre-fixe menus meant to drive business during a slow season. Last summer, the group adapted the rules to allow carryout menus as well. But Baltimore’s restaurants are currently closed to on-premise dining, and many have shut down until they can serve customers inside again.
In a statement Monday, Downtown Partnership cited the current restrictions and the plummeting revenues at many area restaurants, saying “event organizers did not want to ask struggling businesses to reduce their prices.”
“Some places aren’t open,” said spokesman Michael Evitts. Matters were complicated by the fact that so many restaurants have adopted different models to make it through the pandemic, with some selling meal kits or dry goods.
Instead of Restaurant Week, Downtown Partnership and Visit Baltimore are throwing its weight behind the Rally Around Restaurants, a homegrown social media initiative to support the food service industry during the pandemic. The group is also encouraging customers to order from restaurants “frequently and directly,” minimize use of third-party sites, buy gift cards and tip generously, according to a news release.
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The problems facing restaurants in Baltimore and elsewhere are many, with up to half predicted to shutter permanently because of the pandemic. Among the businesses that have already shut down are restaurants that had participated in Restaurant Weeks of years past, including The Pen & Quill, City Cafe and The Alexander Brown Restaurant.
In response to rising coronavirus case numbers here, Baltimore’s mayor Brandon Scott said last week he was keeping in place a ban on indoor and outdoor dining at restaurants that went into effect late last year. A Maryland trade group is currently pursuing legal actions to allow city restaurants to reopen, and a hearing is scheduled for this week.
City businesses are still allowed to serve customers for carryout and delivery, but many restaurants have struggled to make money on those orders, with hefty commissions charged by third party delivery apps like Grubhub and Uber Eats. Baltimore’s city council is weighing whether to temporarily cap those fees at 15%.
Throughout the pandemic, Downtown Partnership has taken various steps to support struggling eateries, including buying up gift certificates through the Curbside Baltimore program, which they then sold to individual customers with a $10 bonus. Through the Downtown Partnership’s website, people could buy a $35 gift card to restaurants from Faidley’s Seafood to Ramen Utsuke for just $25. “It’s meaningful for the businesses because its cash in their pockets,” he said. The program is set to conclude this month, with many of the gift cards already sold out, but Evitts said the group may choose to launch it again.