• 36°

Smithfield, IW restaurant week returns Jan. 29

When the coronavirus pandemic emerged in Virginia last spring, restaurants were some of the hardest-hit businesses.

Capacity was reduced, dining hours and bar service were limited and in some cases, places that couldn’t meet all the criteria to operate in accordance with COVID-related state health guidelines, closed for an extended time — or even went out of business.

Smithfield’s eighth annual Restaurant Week is back starting Jan. 29 and running through Feb. 6 in the new normal of masks, socially distanced and outdoor dining and a focus on carry-out and curbside service.

For restaurants, “personally, I think things are starting to look up,” said Connie Chapman, who leads special events for the Smithfield and Isle of Wight Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We’ve got the vaccine that’s becoming available. I think the improved cleaning procedures at businesses — you become aware of when people don’t wash their hands. And now that people are taking that seriously and sanitizing — that’s just going to help keep us all safe.”

“We have 13 places participating this year, which is actually not bad because last year, we had 16 and that was before COVID,” Chapman continued. “So to have 13, I’m pretty impressed.” In addition, Chapman said, the Restaurant Week promotion runs over two weekends to provide as many opportunities for people to participate as possible.

Eateries are offering a $10 or $15 lunch, which includes an entree and dessert. For dinner, the $20 or $30 menu includes an appetizer, entree and dessert. Eight places are offering curbside service, seven will offer outdoor dining, and all but one eatery will offer carry-out service for Restaurant Week.

“We are happy to participate in Restaurant Week again this year,” said Randy Pack, president of Smithfield Station. “It’s a great way for the community to highlight our area restaurants and for the restaurants to highlight some of their abilities.”

Pack, who is also a Smithfield Town Council member, said this year’s Restaurant Week will be a bit different with the focus on carry-out and curbside pickup “where in years past we did not allow for this. That’s just the nature of our new restaurant culture! If the customers are uncomfortable dining in, let’s get the food to them.”

He acknowledges that the last 12 months have been challenging for the restaurant business.

“The most challenging piece, especially early on, was not knowing what the regulations were going to be from day to day,” Pack said. “Then we had to relearn what our customers wanted and how to make them feel safe once they were allowed to return to in-person dining. When, and if, this pandemic is all over we will come out of it better business people, better marketers and stronger for it! There is a saying, ‘what doesn’t kill you just makes you stronger.’ I am not sure of words that could be more fitting than that right now.”

Chapman echoed that sentiment. With the health and service rules and guidelines for restaurants changing so frequently, “I think people have done amazing to be able to be creative,” to stay afloat during the last 12 months. On the other hand, with more work from home and at-home school time than ever before, some dining establishments had a banner year as many people — either out of necessity or just for the enjoyment of it — ordered more take-out and carry-out food than ever.

“I’ve heard some restaurants say they’ve done better than they’ve ever done,” Chapman said. “Our community, I think, especially has really stepped up to support our small businesses, and I think that’s amazing.”

The Restaurant Week lunch and dinner promotional prices don’t include beverages, taxes and tips. For a full list of participating businesses and links to their menus, visit genuinesmithfieldva.com.