Restaurants are feeling cautiously optimistic about business for Super Bowl Sunday and Valentine's Day weekend, typically busy days in the industry.
"All of our bookings are pretty strong," said Nancy Caswell, head of the advocacy group Massachusetts Restaurants United. "People are definitely celebrating over the weekend."
This weekend comes as a coronavirus surge, spurred by the omicron variant, appears to be easing in Massachusetts. On Friday, the state reported around 2,500 new confirmed cases of COVID, and the seven-day average is at 1,600 cases. A month ago, the state was reporting around 19,500 cases a day. Massachusetts' positivity rate dropped from 21% a month ago to just under 4% now.
Winter is always slow for restaurants, but Caswell said mid-December to mid-January felt like March 2020 all over again. Restaurants had done well last summer and fall, and reservations are slowly picking back up again, she said. Caswell is cautiously optimistic this will continue into the spring.
Kari Kuelzer, general manager of Harvard Square's Grendel's Den, agrees.
"I'm just thinking that business is going to pick up a lot in the next couple of months," she said. "I think we're going to see some of our busiest months of all time in the spring. I think people are ready to to socialize."
Kuelzer said business always drops somewhat in December and January because college students are home for winter break, but this year, the drop in business was noticeable. She said she was expecting Grendel's patio to be busy on Saturday because of the nice weather and on Monday for Valentine's Day.
But Bob Luz, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, said this weekend might not be big business for all restaurants. He said he fears a lot of people won't want to go out on Monday night after staying up late to watch the game on Sunday. Plus, he said for restaurants that typically make a lot of money on larger parties, Valentine's Day throws a wrench into those plans.
"You only have so many tables," said Luz. "Tables that are typically set for four, six, eight, 10 people, get sat with twos, right? Because my wife and I want to be by ourselves on Valentine's Day, we don't go out as a group. And so you have a shortage of tables ... a lot of restaurants have turned it into a weekend event."
Caswell, with the group Massachusetts Restaurants United, said restaurants have learned how to be successful with meal kits and take-out, and are using those tools to boost revenues for them ahead of Sunday's game.
"I think that a lot of restaurants got really creative and then now have this ability to maintain that connection with their customers or their guests by maintaining like themed style dinners or like interactive cooking," said Caswell.
A lot of restaurants are closed Mondays, especially with staffing shortages, Caswell said. But, "for those of us that were able to reconfigure the schedule or just open up, I know that Valentine's Day books look really strong as well." The challenge for some of them will be stocking up on food for a Monday Valentine's Day after a busy weekend.
Parlor Sports in Somerville is marking their first Super Bowl in two years, after re-opening in the summer of 2021.
Garvey Salomon, bartender and manager at Parlor, said business nearly crawled to a halt over the last six weeks, but started to pick back up slowly around Martin Luther King Day. For this weekend, he's hopeful they're going to continue to see gains.
"I'm optimistic, I think it's going to be pretty busy," said Salomon. "It's the Super Bowl. There are a lot of people who just come to watch that don't have any dog in the race. They just want to either watch this halftime show or they want to watch the commercials. It's usually a good crowd."