As Fairbanks restaurants grapple with limited customers, hours and services because of state-mandated COVID-19 restrictions, more and more are turning to social media to get the word out they are open for business.
From websites curating what place is open and making deliveries to restaurant owners using Facebook and Instagram to reach customers, Interior businesses are going online to stay afloat. Some of the pages are longtime favorites, like local food review pages on Facebook, while other websites are going online as part of a national or state presence.
Karen Wilken, the marketing and PR manager for Fountainhead Development, is the person behind getting Fairbanks restaurants included on Dining At A Distance, a website that launched in Chicago earlier this month to promote Chicago restaurants open for takeout and delivery during COVID-19 shutdowns. In the few weeks it’s been online, the website has expanded to include cities across the United States. Wilken stumbled upon it on a COVID resource page online and approached Fountainhead management, asking if she could use Fountainhead’s resources to set up a local Fairbanks page.
“We basically curated it to get it started, and they virtually published it overnight to get it ready to go,” Wilken said.
The page launched Thursday with just a few entries but has grown rapidly since it’s been online. At www.diningatadistance.com, users can search for their city to see what restaurants are open, their hours and phone numbers, menus and options such as delivery or takeout.
“Word of mouth spread on Friday, and over the weekend, we more than tripled it,” Wilken said, adding that restaurants are now adding themselves. “It’s a community resource the community and hospitality industry can use.”
Similar to Dining At A Distance, the Alaska Cabaret Hotel Restaurant and Retailers Association, known as CHARR, launched carryoutAK.com this week, which operates much like Dining At A Distance. It includes restaurants and their hours, contact information, menus and takeout or delivery options. Michael Cervantes, owner of The Banks Alehouse, is on the CHARR board of directors. He said it was during a teleconference last week that the board decided to launch the site to help the industry.
“A lot of the websites just got put last week, so it’s early,” Cervantes said. “We’re hoping to drum up as much business as possible.”
At Banks Alehouse, Cervantes said he has four team members working to accommodate orders but he’s seeing a big decrease in business.
“I do believe customers are being loyal to us,” he said. “Are we making a dent in what we would normally do? No. We’re probably not doing 10% of business.”
Fairbanks resident Scott McCrea took it upon himself to launch a Facebook page called Support the Fairbanks Food and Beverage Industry. On the page, restaurateurs and owners are posting their specials for the day, their menus and what hours they’ll be open.
“I was staying at home, and it was the evening the governor made the announcement of the ban going into place,” McCrea said. “I thought it was a good way to get Fairbanks to support the scene.”
Overnight, it jumped in local restaurants joining, McCrea said.
“In times like these, food is a comforting place,” he said. “We might not have a chance to go to our favorite Thai restaurant or brewery.”
For some in the business, social media use has been key to their survival. Tariq Khan, owner of Spice It Up in Fairbanks, credits it with helping him launch a food truck that turned into his own restaurant. He’s still using it to keep customers updated.
“When all this started, I started posting more and people started coming in,” Khan said. “Social media is a big help to the restaurants.”
Both Keri Roach, a co-owner of Friar Tuck’s Hoagie House, and Sarah Posma, owner of Little Owl Cafe, are using Dining At A Distance as well as local Facebook food pages and their business’s social media pages. Both said they’re still seeing customers but don’t know if it’s from recent additions to their social media use.
“We’re definitely seeing more delivery orders on a daily basis,” Roach said. “I have no way to tell if they’re getting our information from their pages. It would be great if there was a way to know how much of those Facebook pages and new groups are helping to get the word out.”
Posma said she’s increased her sharing of posts on social media to remind people they’re open.
“Social media is a great tool, and I hope people come out as much as they can,” Posma said. “We don’t know how long this is going to last, and you have to support your local businesses if they’re going to be here.”
Contact Features Editor Gary Black at 459-7504 or at twitter.com/FDNMfeatures.