Wednesday morning in Nova Scotia, Shubenacadie Sam saw her shadow, meaning another six weeks of winter. There are also another couple weeks of COVID restrictions, which will last until February 14 at the earliest. It’s not great news in an already-slow time for restaurateurs.
“January, February and even March to some degree is a slow time for restaurants,” says Stephanie Ogilvie, co-owner and chef at Hop Scotch Dinner Club on Barrington Street. Just like the groundhogs, “people want to hibernate at home, stay warm and cozy and don’t want to venture out.”
So every February, the Restaurant Association of Nova Scotia puts on month-long foodie festival Dine Around. It’s taken place since 2003 and began partnering with Discover Halifax in 2018 to add a focus on the city as Dine Around Halifax, but this is only the second year restaurants have had take-out options.
“If Nova Scotians follow necessary public health precautions, dining out is as safe as any other activity.”
“Before that, it was always a dine-in event, you’re going to the restaurant and having that restaurant experience,” Discover Halifax director of marketing Holly Chessman tells The Coast. “Restaurants pivoted last year and they were able to adapt to meet the needs, and they’re doing that again this year.”
For Dine Around Halifax 2022, dozens of restaurants offer a set menu—priced at either $10, $20, $30, $40 or $50—for the month, hoping to attract customers who otherwise would be cooking at home or grabbing fast food. Nearly 100 restaurants are participating, with menus including a $10 croque monsieur with tomato soup at Durty Nelly’s, a $20 Rasta pasta with jerk chicken or pork at Brawta Jamaican and a $40 “surprise for two” at The Feasts.
“We've all been stuck at home so much the last few years. I'm sure everyone's tired of cooking for themselves,” Chessman says. “So this is a chance to try a new restaurant. Get take-out or, if you're comfortable, go and eat at a restaurant.”
Provincial COVID regulations currently allow up to 10 people to gather at a table in a restaurant (the same number permitted at casual indoor gatherings); service must stop by 11pm and the doors must close by midnight. But despite permission to dine, Nova Scotians became extra cautious when the omicron variant started surging before the holidays.
“With the case numbers being so high and then people really wanting to make it home to their families to spend Christmas or New Year's with them, a lot of people weren’t willing to risk going out and being around people outside of their bubble,” says Ogilvie. “A lot of people were just being like, very cautious in who they were in contact with around that time.”
From mid-December through early January, Hop Scotch closed for several weeks. But since reopening, Ogilvie says many Haligonians are comfortable going out again. “We definitely over the last couple of weeks have seen people wanting to get out again,” says Ogilvie. “They’re ready to get out. So that’s hopeful to see people making reservations and talking about it.”
February also features Valentine’s Day, which is traditionally a very busy evening in terms of people going out to eat. To be ready for it, some places are cancelling their Dine Around specials that day (check under individual restaurant listings at the Dine Around site for specifics). However, the province doesn’t have any restrictions in place specifically for February 14.
“Nova Scotians should do what they are comfortable with,” the province’s department of health and wellness tells The Coast. “If Nova Scotians follow necessary public health precautions, dining out is as safe as any other activity.”
Of the 94 Dine Around participants, 53 list take-out options on their page, and 11 offer delivery. Hop Scotch has both a hot and cold take-out option this month as well as dine-in, offering three courses for $50: choice of kohlrabi salad or pork belly to start, a main course of seared duck breast with rutabaga pave and apple butter (or for vegetarians, parsley root caramelle with brown butter sauce), and black forest budino for dessert.
“So whether you are able to come in and dine with us in the dining room, great, we're here for you for that. If you want to just pick it up and have hot takeaway, that's no problem,” says Ogilvie. “We wanted to make sure we’re available to accommodate whatever the consumer wants.”