The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing organizations to get creative, finding new tech solutions and enforcing strict safety protocols to convene in-person events. To promote the first-ever Newport Beach Restaurant Month with a safe, socially distanced media event, Newport Beach & Company found that a retro approach — including drive-in restaurants and roller-skating carhops — was a perfect fit for current times.
The media event, which took place Aug. 27 at the Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort & Marina, departed from the usual kind of campaign showcasing local eateries. In pre-COVID times, that would mean an indoor event where guests would mingle with chefs while tasting the food they make at their restaurants, said Erin Rose, senior director of communications at Newport Beach & Company.
That couldn’t happen for this event, which was created to promote the new restaurant campaign, officially called Newport Beach Restaurant Month Eat. Drink. Win., that runs throughout September. It was organized by Newport Beach & Company’s business unit, Dine Newport Beach, and the Newport Beach Restaurant Association as a way to help boost revenue and traffic to restaurants and other businesses in the California city impacted by the restrictions and closings caused by the health crisis.
Newport Beach & Company has established safety protocols for its events that on the surface may seem restrictive, Rose said, but actually “enabled us to think outside-the-box and get really creative with the show and all of our offerings.”
When the 90 guests arrived in their cars at the “drive-in and dine” media event, they drove over a red carpet and were given a sealed box containing their utensils, water, napkins, and placemats — all branded for the event. Masked and gloved servers handed them non-alcoholic beverages before they were directed where to park. Every car faced a stage and giant screen where Carlos Godinez, president of Newport Beach Restaurant Association, Gary Sherwin, president & CEO Newport Beach & Company, and Newport Beach Mayor Will O’Neill spoke.
Newport Beach & Company produced 10 restaurant videos that played on the 30-foot-tall screen throughout the evening, and KTLA-Ch. 5 TV anchor Lynette Romero interviewed various chefs on the stage.
The roller-skating servers, clad in masks and face shields, delivered a three-course “touchless tasting” meal, plated on site in sealed containers, from six local restaurants. Organizers tapped the carhops to deliver a live-event staple — surprise and delight — when they rolled onstage and launched into a flash mob dance.
The event’s success “was all in the details,” Rose said. “The entire experience was designed to be entertaining and informative for guests to enjoy from the safety of their cars. In all, it generated a lot of buzz in the community.”
Curt Wagner is digital editor at Convene.