When Frederick native Chris Martin started a “Frederick County Take Out” group on Facebook to help highlight the restaurants, breweries and distilleries in the county, he hoped to get 500 members in a month.
Instead, 20,000 members joined within three weeks.
“I thought this could be cool. We’re in a dark time right now, so I figured this is a way to pass the time,” said Martin, who works in restaurant marketing. “People love food so it brings people together.”
Members post about the take-out meals they got from different Frederick County restaurants, often including photos. Other members then get inspired to order something similar or try out a new restaurant they never have gone to before.
The way Martin sees it, the group functions as a free marketing tool for restaurants, who can post details about their menus including specials and instructions on how to order to a group of people who are likely to get take out.
“So it’s a way for them to really showcase what they’re still doing during the pandemic, just because a lot of places are reopening now,” Martin said. “A lot of them have changed their hours and the way they operate.”
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People also post on the page to ask for recommendations, asking where to get the best crab dip or reuben sandwich. Some people even just ask for an underrated restaurant they may have not gone to before.
“I haven’t stopped eating long enough to take pictures,” said group member Joan Strawson. “But, thanks to this group, I’ve eaten out more in the past few weeks than I ever did before and tried new places that I never would have tried before.”
Several restaurants have seen an influx of traffic from the page. Gambrill Mountain Food Co., which opened its brick-and-mortar location in April has been consistently selling out of items and have had their phones ringing constantly, according to their Facebook posts.
Chaps Pit Beef has also gotten a lot of love from the group. General Manager Shayne McIntyre said the first couple of weeks of carryout-only were tough on the restaurant, and they didn’t get many sales. Over time, their regulars began to return.
But in the last few weeks, the customers coming in have specifically said they’ve come from the Facebook group. The phone has been ringing off the hook on Friday and Saturday nights.
“It’s great to have local people coming in,” McIntyre said.
Sweet and Savory Bake Shop, which is in a residential neighborhood in Worman’s Mill, has also benefited from the group. Owner Meghan Gourley had to close the bakery, which only opened a year ago, and lay off her three employees when sales dried up during the first few weeks of the shutdown.
But after getting a Paycheck Protection Program loan in mid-April, she brought her employees back and planned to reopen. Before their first day open, Gourley shared on the Frederick County Take Out page that they were taking pre-orders after her friend invited her to join.
“So as soon as I posted that on the takeout site, we suddenly got all these orders,” Gourley said.
She and her employees were busy keeping up, and the next week, the orders doubled. She had to close down the online ordering portal early that week because they were overwhelmed with all of the orders coming in.
“Everybody has been telling us that they found us on that take-out Facebook page and so it’s really just done wonders for our visibility,” Gourley said.
While Martin wasn’t expecting the group to have such an impact, he’s glad that it did.
“It’s become kind of a foodie tribe on the takeout page, just really giving support to all those spots,” Martin said. “So the more the merrier, the more we have in the group … the stronger our bars and restaurants will be right now and after the pandemic ends.”