Dale J. Venturini
President/CEO, RI Hospitality Association
This is New England and all of us who choose to live here know how this time of year can be a little unpredictable and cool. As the temperatures drop and COVID-19 guidelines extend into the winter, many restaurant operators are looking for solutions to preserve their outdoor dining capabilities throughout these cooler fall months. While we can ensure the general public that restaurateurs across Rhode Island are keenly focused on maintaining public health and safety guidelines to keep their staff and customers safe when dining indoors, many diners simply do not feel comfortable eating inside. To keep our industry viable as we head into the fall months, restaurant operators will need to get creative as the days get colder and we at the RI Hospitality Association are at the ready to assist them weather the chilly temperatures.
With unfathomable losses throughout our industry, hospitality leaders are being challenged to identify and implement innovative and thoughtful practices to ensure the viability of their businesses’ ongoing operations in a safe way. From contactless pickup, to online ordering, to reconfiguring indoor and outdoor space and more, our industry is adapting.
I’m incredibly pleased to announce RIHA’s new outdoor dining campaign, #BYOBlanket. Launching in October, and through a grant from Commerce RI, we were able to purchase more than 12,000 high-quality blankets from Ocean State Job Lot at a deep discount as well as thousands of hand warmers, hundreds of portable heaters and more. With an eye toward helping our entire restaurant industry, not just our members, we allocated these items on a first come, first served basis to any restaurant with outdoor seating who signed up on our website. This allows restaurants to provide customers with a warm option so that they can continue to enjoy eating outdoors.
During my last visit to Italy, pre-pandemic, I dined outside at a café on a chilly day prompting staff to offer me a blanket. Dining outside, even in cooler months, is definitely the norm in Europe where diners can sit at myriad outdoor cafes with blankets at the ready and on the backs of chairs. This experience helped spark the idea for the #BYOBlanket campaign.
While many restaurateurs are looking to install heaters outdoors to keep their guests warm, their expenses are already too high and heaters are a hot commodity these days, no pun intended. Everybody in Rhode Island has a handful of favorite restaurants; in some ways, it is up to us to make sure those restaurants do not go out of business, and if bringing a blanket to dine outdoors helps save even one of those establishments, it would be well worth it.
We would like everyone who is reading this to bring your own blanket next time you dine out. We would absolutely love to see how cozy and bundled up you are, and ask that you share your photos with us by emailing them to firstname.lastname@example.org for your chance to win a gift card to one of our great Rhode Island restaurants. When sharing, please include your first and last name, as well as the location of the photo…and please do not forget to tag us @rihospitality and hashtag your photo #BYOBlanket.
While we understand that this is not the ultimate solution to the inevitable problems that lie ahead as winter approaches, #BYOBlanket is a call-to-action that gives the everyday diner the power to make a difference to help support our industry, and we cannot thank them enough for that.