A sign in a Portland restaurant window asks patrons to wear a mask on Friday Dec. 11, 2020. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Maine Restaurant Week, traditionally held during the first half of March, has for the past 13 years offered Maine foodies a chance to dine out at a diverse array of restaurants for a reasonable price, and for restaurateurs to connect with new customers.

As everyone is painfully aware, however, this is anything but a traditional year, and going out to eat at a restaurant — even ones that take great effort to provide for customer and staff safety — is considered a risky activity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

That’s why Maine Restaurant Week co-founder Gillian Britt has this year decided to revamp the approach to the annual celebration of Maine eateries by waiving the $495 fee to participate, and remaking the event’s website to include curbside and outdoor dining options, as well as traditional indoor dining.

This year’s event is set for March 1-12.

“We really want to make sure that this campaign is as beneficial as possible for as many restaurants as want to participate,” Britt said. “Restaurants are struggling, and it did not feel right to ask people to spend money, when they are already having to cut back on so many things.”

In addition to waiving the fee, Britt said that instead of the traditional three-course Maine Restaurant Week meal special, restaurants are simply being asked to come up with something unique for the week, be it a special cocktail and appetizer pairing, a special entree, or sticking with the three-course offering. Restaurants can also link directly to their online ordering options on the Maine Restaurant Week website.

“We want to make it as easy as possible for people,” Britt said. “A three-course meal might not really work for a place that is only doing takeout. We’re letting the restaurants decide what works best for them.”

Maine Restaurant Week started as a way to drum up business for restaurants that saw a lull in activity during the winter months, but has turned into a popular yearly dining opportunity for Mainers. That said, the event has struggled to generate participation among restaurants from outside the Portland area, with only a handful of Bangor-area, Down East and northern Maine restaurants taking part each year.

Britt said she hopes this year will change that.

“What I would really love is to see restaurants sign up in whatever capacity they want to, and see if we can build a database of all the different options people have for dining, whether they want takeout, outside or inside,” she said. “Restaurants need a boost more than ever this year, so if we can connect people with what’s out there, we’ve done our job.”

Though she plans to return to the three-course menu next year, Britt said that if this year goes well, restaurant week organizers may permanently implement some changes going forward.

“Lots of things have changed this year, so we’re changing along with them,” she said.

Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.