Restaurant Week 2021 faces many challenges

Written by on February 4, 2021

Restaurant Week 2021 faces many challenges

By Haley O’Brien

February 4, 2021


It’s restaurant week in Bethlehem but the pandemic has dealt a huge blow to eateries across the country. Indeed, in Pennsylvania, nearly half of all restaurants could close according to a local trade association

Listen to the story.

Some business owners in the region were hoping for a boost during the week but the snowstorm developed and made it impossible to get around. 

Small restaurants, in particular, face unique disadvantages during the pandemic. 

“It’s certainly been very challenging,” Larry Porter, owner of Porter’s Pub in Easton, says “We’re a small restaurant, capacity-wise, we don’t have a lot of seats inside. So keeping tables six feet apart and having to operate at 50% capacity, we’re just not able to fit that many people inside.”

Porter bought a tent and heaters to offer outdoor dining through the winter. Now, they can actually serve more people outside than inside. He says it’s been a life saver. 

But then Mother Nature interfered.  

“We had a real bad cold snap and we had some icy sleet and rain on Tuesday, so it’s been less than ideal,” Porter says. 

Restaurant owners in downtown Bethlehem are frustrated too after more than two feet of snow fell during the week they created special menus to entice customers.

Rachel Griffith, the owner of the Apollo Grill, is doing a three-course meal for a set price with dishes like Pork Mignon and beef-braised ribs. She’ll extend it into next week.

“We want as many people as possible to safely enjoy restaurant week,” Griffith says, “and by cramming it all into one week on our end, we just felt if we could extend it a few days why not.”

Unlike previous years, businesses have a curbside takeout option for meals and cocktails, too. Griffith expects many will go that route. And she’ll be ready.

“Instead of making a reservation to dine in, they’re basically making a reservation to dine at home. For instance, if they want to pick up their food at 6:30, we will make sure it’s ready for 6:30, we take four or five orders every half hour and it works out perfectly,” Griffith says. 

Steve DiDonato, who founded the Lehigh Valley Restaurant Owners Alliance, says he’s hearing from a lot of restaurants that are struggling.

“Imagine taking away your most profitable quarter of the year and starting off the slowest quarter of the year with no cash whatsoever to get you through January, February and March, the slowest months of the year,” DiDonato says. 

He says owners are having a hard time with staffing. Because of COVID-19, they’re not hosting events and they’re not seeing the crowds they normally would.

Griffith, at Apollo Grill in Bethlehem, says weekdays are slow.

“Where we are feeling the heat the most, would be our business lunches and business travel, because people are not traveling for work, and they’re working from home,” Griffith says.

She says she’s looking forward to the day when enforcing COVID-19 protocols won’t take up all her time..

“I was telling a customer yesterday actually, I said I can’t wait until the day I can enjoy having conversations with customers again,” she says.

Porter misses the late night crowd at his Easton pub.

“The thing that hurts us the most is these crazy regulations, our license allows us to serve until 2 a.m. but under the Governor’s orders we have to close at 10 p.m, which doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Porter says.

He does say business was decent during Easton’s Restaurant Week.

“We’ve had restaurant weeks in the past that have been much, much busier, but I’m still grateful and happy for the business that we’ve got,” he says. 

It’s his loyal customers that keep Porter going, he says. 

Restaurant Week in Historic Downtown Bethlehem continues through Feb. 13. Reservations are highly encouraged.

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