Thursday is the start of Restaurant Week South Carolina, an 11-day-long event designed to showcase many of the state’s greatest places to eat. And while the pandemic may understandably keep many of us from savoring the week as we normally might — by reserving a table and dining in — we still should try to take part as best we can.
After all, the week is geared toward those of us who live here: It offers special values and treats for lunch or dinner at both casual and formal restaurants. In short, it gives restaurants a chance to show off, particularly during a slow time for tourism (though foodies do visit here specifically to take part; some hotels have even created special packages).
The S.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association, the nonprofit that organizes the week, encouraged restaurants to offer special takeout and delivery options this year. “Although this hasn’t been standard in the past, we feel under current circumstances it will be the best way for everyone to be able to celebrate the tastiest time of the year,” it says.
Few businesses have been hammered by COVID-19 quite like restaurants: Not only does dining in mean staying in a shared inside space — which carries risk — but it’s also impossible to eat with a mask on. The struggle is reflected in the number of restaurants participating: about 150 statewide, which is down from last year. Still, there are plenty of choices: More than 50 Charleston area restaurants have signed up; around Columbia, more than 40 have done so.
We applaud the many restaurant owners who have displayed flexibility, sensitivity and creativity during these challenging times, including restaurants singled out by Post and Courier food editor and chief critic Hanna Raskin for their above-and-beyond concern for diner (and staff) safety. Those nine who won the “Dr. Leon Banov Banners of Distinction” stood out. And just last week, two Charleston restaurants — Edmund’s Oast and Butcher & Bee — launched a COVID-19 testing program to try to slow the virus’s spread.
“Our whole industry is at risk right now,” Edmund’s Oast owner Scott Shor told Ms. Raskin. “People have this false sense of security that because the vaccine is coming, everything is going to be OK: These two months are going to be hardest we’ve ever faced. If we are not proactive in managing COVID within our own walls, then we’re setting ourselves up to exacerbate disaster.”
And it has been a slowly unfolding disaster: In November, the National Restaurant Association found that 65% of South Carolina restaurant operators surveyed saw less business last fall than the year before; 18% were considering closing at least temporarily, while 31% expected to reduce their staff.
So Restaurant Week’s 12th iteration might be the most important ever, as the pandemic stretches on and vaccinations arrive over many more months. Restaurants not only play key roles in South Carolina’s vital tourism industry, but they’re among the few types of businesses enjoyed equally by residents and visitors alike. And the best of them reflect not only the state’s hospitality but our culture as well. We all lose something whenever one closes its doors.
It’s critical that we consider doing what we can to help restaurants survive. Even those not ready to order take out may consider buying gift cards or even making a favorable mention on social media. And when better days arrive, we want to see as many as possible able to lift a glass — or a fork — and enjoy them along with us.