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Pierce County Restaurant Rally

Our community rallies around local restaurants

By Rachel Kelly

In November, date night got that much better during the countywide Restaurant Rally. Patrons (decked out in their COVID best), received 30 percent off their tickets just for ordering through one of the 300 participating restaurants. Restaurants, in turn, received a 50 percent refund of each ticket. The hope being that each restaurant would be propelled out of their recent hardships. And it seemed to be working! Some restaurants were reporting high numbers of solid income along with new customers.


Then the gavel fell. During the last three days of the rally, new restrictions were announced that prohibited indoor dining. Some restaurants rushed to buy heaters for their patios, while others (without patios) fell back on takeout. The county responded quickly, unanimously voting to double the minimum reimbursement amount of all tickets ordered during the rally. The first week of the rally tallied a reimbursement of $3.16 million in sales, and $3.22 million the second week. An additional $311,000 was refunded after the raising of the minimum reimbursement.


Overall, the rally brought in new or hesitant customers, boosted the local economy and bolstered participating restaurants with much-needed income. A third of the restaurants were owned by people of color, and another 37 percent by women. The website dedicated to a listing of participating restaurants received over 40,000 hits in the first week. And through a combination of language interns, advertisement and in-person visits, a variety of cuisines were incorporated in the rally. Though there were many restaurants who opted out for various reasons, and some opted in on the second week, it’s safe to say that the rally was a success. It achieved what it set out to do.


As successful as the rally was in November, it was never meant as a solution. It was meant to rally—and rally it did. Our community has rallied, and rallied, and will continue to rally around our struggling local restaurants. Thriving local business contributes to local people, playing in a back-and-forth banter that benefits all involved. Our local business is made up of our local neighbors, and when they thrive, so do we. In our food we see a reflection of memory, comfort and safety. We celebrate, relax, relate and ruminate in restaurants. We share banter and laughter; we meet new people and connect with old friends. It would be a sad sight to see our neighborhoods lose these places of belonging; places where our neighborhoods come together.


So where do we go from here? How do we preserve our local small businesses? What’s next in store not just for the physical health of our community, but for our mental, emotional, social and economic health? Partly, the next step is up to the governor and other state officials, who have released a 2021 plan for safely opening up. I’m sure you’ve spent as much time pouring over the plan as I have, so there’s no need to rehash it here. However, arguably, the larger step is to be made by us. What comes next is up to you and me. It is our turn to rally.


There are practical ways to do that. The first step being to look around. What restaurant is struggling in your area? Which restaurant is new? Which is old? Do they deliver? What about takeout? Do they have outdoor or indoor dining? What times are they open? If there ever was a time to explore what’s within close reach for you, it would be now. Your personal local involvement in what goes on in your neighborhood makes where you are a better, safer place to live. Not just that, but it reminds us all that here, we’re together. Here, we’re safe. Here, we can laugh. Here, we can live and eat every day. Here, we’re a community.


The second step would be to get involved. Join in on the conversation. There is a lovely little (large) Facebook group dedicated to dining in Pierce County full of foodies with recommendations and tips on local hideaways. There are local Instagrams dedicated to local food. There are local nonprofits and community organizations dedicated to local business and economic renewal. And if you’re not sure where to start, there’s always a lot going on at the Pierce County committee and council meetings. It’s online, with each meeting publicly listed ahead of time on the calendar. We are a county dedicated to its people, and without the voices of its people, it doesn’t thrive.


The third step is simple: Be generous. It’s true that right now our capacity to give might be limited. Actually, it’s very likely that we’re all a bit limited right now. However, there is always something. We are generous with our time, the moments that we give each other as we go through our day. We are generous with our grace, we allow each other an extra measure. Accounting for each other’s hardship. In the context of our neighborhood restaurants, we have the opportunity to be generous with our money. A little budgeted bit of money set aside to be spent at the local eatery, tip always accounted for. If eating out is normally a regular part of our life, then it still can be. It just might require a little more creativity (and bundling up) than usual.


And restaurants are willing to help us along. Not only are there many restaurants doing takeout, but there are also several different eateries and bars that are holding outside or sidewalk dining. As a member of my community, and local Pierce County foodie Facebook groups, I can account for over 60 eateries with heated and tented outdoor spaces. More recently I went out in the driving rain to meet a close friend over wine. We huddled in our jackets next to a live flame, with a tent dividing us from the street. It’s true that the tent buckled. The cars were loud. The weather was intimidating. The sidewalk was busy. However, the food was delicious. And the company! Life sustaining. Something I’m sure we all could use a little bit of right now.


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