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Updated: January 11, 2021

Maine eateries face 'hard winter' despite customer support, survey shows

Street scene showing outside of Petite Jacqueline restaurant, and snow on the ground Photo / Renee Cordes Like many restaurants during the pandemic, Petite Jacqueline in Portland is offering a combination of in-house dining, takeout and delivery, following strict health and safety protocols.

Ten months after the pandemic began, few Mainers have returned to dining inside restaurants, and even fewer plan to continue eating outdoors now that the weather is colder, a new survey shows.

The findings are based on a survey of 2,010 regular restaurant diners by Eat Drink Lucky newsletter and the organizers of Maine Restaurant Week. The poll follows a similar survey released in May.

In the latest report shared with Mainebiz, more than one out of four respondents (27.7%) said they have resumed dining inside, while close to three out of four (72.8%) said they have not.

Of those who had been eating outdoors, only 21.6% of those said they would continue doing so now that the weather has gotten colder, while 45% said they would not and 34.7% said they are not eating out at all.

On the plus side for restaurants, more than half of the respondents said they were ordering from restaurants other than ones they frequented before the pandemic, and 91.7% of the those polled said they have made conscious efforts to support their favorite eateries.

"There was an incredible outpouring of love and good wishes for our restaurants," Eat Drink Lucky publisher Gillian Britt told Mainebiz. "Many shared how much they missed dining out, and that they plan to do so again, once indoor dining is completely opened. It was clear through the comments that people who are dining outdoors really enjoy it, and would like to see a continued use of heaters and igloos."

At the same time, she said, "We can see from the overwhelming percentage of people who are not dining outdoors and are spending less that restaurants are facing a very hard winter."

Mixing up the menu

The updated survey comes as Britt and her husband, Jim, plan the 2021 Maine Restaurant Week, which they created in 2009 to give eateries a boost during the traditionally quiet winter season by offering meals at special prices. The upcoming edition will take place from March 1-12.

"This year's Maine Restaurant Week will look a bit different, but the goal remains the same, to make winter a profitable time for restaurants," Britt said. "We're adapting the website to highlight curbside and will encourage restaurants to share their outdoor dining options, too."

She said they would start posting participating restaurants on the event website in early February, and that usually somewhere between 80 and 100 take part.

While organizers don't keep information on the number of diners that go to participating restaurants during Maine Restaurant Week, Britt said that eateries often report summer-like business during what used to be one of the slowest weeks of the year.

The city of Portland is also doing its part to help restaurants in the off-season, with the City Council last week approving an extension of the city's emergency declaration along with outdoor retail and dining operations through May 10. 

That will allow restaurants and stores to continue to operate outdoors on private property, public sidewalks and in parking lanes, and those wishing to do so are required to reapply by Jan. 15. Applications for outdoor dining through May 10 can be filed online.

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