The city’s restaurants often get a midsummer lift from Baltimore Summer Restaurant Week, and this year the boost stands to be especially helpful.
Coming as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced adjustment to social distancing and left many businesses struggling, the coordinated culinary campaign led by the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore and Visit Baltimore from July 24 through Aug. 2 is looking to adapt right along with the restaurants.
That means allowing for more options. This year’s event is opening to lots of different kinds of restaurants, ranging from coffee shops to foodie destinations. It’s also not required that restaurants to offer the kind of multi-course, prix-fixe meals that are a staple of restaurant weeks around the country. Each restaurant can set its own pricing, and can offer the deals via curbside pickup or delivery. Plus, participation fees are now $25. It’s all focused around a push to drive businesses to local restaurants that need support right now.
To communicate the restaurants participating and what’s available, the week’s website is a particularly visible tool, so it has also gotten an update for the times. Downtown Partnership worked with Canton-based creative agency Kapowza on the website redesign, and we caught up with the teams about some of the key ingredients, and how they adapted the project.
A planned redesign of the website was in the works before the pandemic: Kapowza Director of Accounts Sean Sutherland remembers an early kickoff being one of the last in-person meetings at the agency’s Natty Boh Tower office before social distancing meant most were working remotely.
The project to revamp the website was only accelerated with the pandemic, and added extra considerations. When it came to infrastructure, originally, Kapowza planned to build the website on the platform Webflow, but instead decided to go with WordPress since it was what Downtown Partnership “was familiar with, what they could use to update the backend, and just made more sense as the ability to hold in-person meetings and training went the way of the dinosaurs,” Sutherland said.
When it came to the design itself, however, it’s a fairly stripped-down offering. Downtown Partnership had a focus on not only updating the technology behind a site that was more than five years old, but making it more easily accessible. A big focus was on making the site more mobile-friendly, since that was the source of lots of traffic previously and became even more urgent against the backdrop of the pandemic, said Michael Evitts, senior VP of communications and brand management at Downtown Partnership.
“We wanted the new site to be more mobile friendly, a lot more visuals and engagement and instead of leading with words, leading with images about food,” Evitts said. With pictures of food getting lots of attention on Instagram as folks post their pics of what they ate, they wanted to tap into that interest.
The website also has an enhanced search functionality, with categories down to the neighborhood, price point, type of cuisine and specific dietary restrictions. And it has callouts and iconography that illustrate takeout, outdoor dining and the other kinds of ways to engage.
With the pandemic, the website is also showcasing the businesses themselves.
“The site fully represents and shows off the steps restaurants are taking during this time to stay relevant, be more sustainable, and survive during a pandemic,” Sutherland said.
It’s an example of Baltimore’s business community doing work that will help boost others.
“Never far from our minds was that each restaurant, each menu, listed on this site represents our community, our neighbors,” Sutherland said. “Those among us that are struggling like so many across the state to make sense of this time and provide for a family. How can you not want to support that?”-30-