On June 1, Cape May’s Cape Resorts—the hospitality conglomerate that includes several hotels, restaurants like the Blue Pig Tavern, Ebbitt Room, and Boiler Room concepts, Beach Plum Farm, and beachfront property—reopened with limited capacity.
The challenges involved include social distancing (of course), having enough staff (while still allowing for extra space), even turning over the rooms themselves. We caught up with CEO Curtis Bashaw, who we last spoke with in 2018, right after he won an award from the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association. Not only is Bashaw prepared for a season in hospitality like no other—he actually sees opportunity for enriched guest experience. And reservations, FYI, are piling in. “The feedback we’re getting is guests miss us and they can’t wait to see us!” From what we can tell, the feeling’s mutual.
Read on to hear about how Cape Resorts first handled the lockdown, and what to expect from its restaurants this season. (Masks, yes, but much, much more.)
Table Hopping: Cape Resorts is a major hospitality outlet. What was it like going into lockdown?
Curtis Bashaw: A lot of people went into the lockdown thinking they were gonna have time to go through old photos and read books. For us, to close a business down, with 450 people—it was like stopping a freight train. That was a gut-wrenching time. There were so many tasks: helping employees get unemployment, our PPP application, talking to all the vendors. I’ve been busier than I’ve ever been in my life! It’s a 24-7, seven-days-a-week triage—everything from lobbying task forces to bank negotiations, talking to our customers, reworking our business model.
TH: Do you feel like you’ve made any progress now that you’re reopening?
CB: Yeah, there’s a sense that maybe we’re in…mile 19 of a 26-mile marathon? We actually closed before we were ordered to do so. We were seeing much higher visitation in March than we might have normally had.
TH: That’s surprising. Why do you think you had such high numbers?
CB: I think news [of the Coronavirus] was starting to break open in New York City and people wanted to get away. We saw crowds. And we socially-distanced our restaurants, but the crowds were just disconcerting to me.
TH: For a lot of closed businesses, a major challenge has been maintaining contact with customers—like “Hey, we’re alive, we’re coming back!” How did you guys do that?
CB: Social media’s been a big part—even my little social media account. And then there’s the normal channels. We reopened our call center three or four weeks ago. It’s been good to get back in touch with all the volume there is. People are jonesing to get down here, I can tell you that! It’s been really gratifying to see customer loyalty, how much people love their traditions at the Jersey Shore.
TH: How does that come through?
CB: Well, during quarantine we launched a children’s art project, putting a call out to our younger guests to send in a picture of what Congress Hall means to you. We got 60 entries. It was amazing, just seeing through their eyes, the things they love about the hotel. There’s a deepening of the relationship going on mutually, I think. We’re understanding just how much we’re a second home for so many families. I actually believe this could be a very rich season when you’re taking stock and are grateful for what you have.
TH: How are you preparing all the properties?
CB: Every property has its own characteristics. The Beach Shack is already a motel with exterior entrances, whereas a hotel like Congress Hall has interior corridors. So it depends on the property. The guiding principles are “What’s our capacity for the team, how does the flow work within the property, and how can we leverage our outdoor spaces?
TH: Having so much outdoor space must be huge.
CB: We’re super blessed to have that three-acre lawn at Congress Hall, 62 acres at Beach Plum Farm. We’ve spread out our dining options. We’ve created these “pod” concepts, groups of furniture for outdoor dining. A pod is just a grouping of chairs for groups of 2-8 that are socially distanced from other groups of chairs for groups of 2-8. Servers will bring food to each group beginning on June 15 when outdoor dining resumes.
TH: How will restaurants adjust to outdoor dining starting next week?
CB: Cape May and Sag Harbor have allowed restaurants to expand their outdoor dining options. We have taken advantage of this at all our properties. We are transforming the Virginia’s garden into a magical outdoor dining room. Baron’s Cove will move its entire indoor dining room outside. On the Grand Lawn at Congress Hall, we will host a garden party each night, family groups socially distanced in wicker chairs spread over the three acres as they enjoy drinks and hors d’oeuvres. The Rusty Nail has never looked better and, over at Beach Plum Farm, the intimate under-the-stars farm dinners begin again on June 17… We’re going to really celebrate the outdoors.
Cape Resorts is currently taking reservations by phone and online. There’s a brief online video about some of the new procedures will look like, including the deep clean and “air purification” as part of room turnover. You can get more information about take-out and outdoor dining online or by calling individual Cape Resorts restaurants. 855-290-8467Click here to leave a comment