‘Keep BR Serving’ campaign aims to ease COVID-19 shutdown’s impact on local servers

The dine-in blackout is still at least two weeks from ending, and restaurants are getting creative to survive the pandemic. About two weeks ago, Mayor Sharon Weston Broome and her team assessed these factors and cooked up the “Keep BR Serving” campaign.

“Our restaurants are an integral part of the small business fabric of our community,” Broome says. “Our culture is rooted in food, so we needed to act quickly.”

The quick response included an hour-long discussion with business leaders and restaurant owners concerned for the thousands of servers and bartenders at risk of unemployment during the shutdown.

After that conversation, Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Veneeth Iyengar developed the tactical plan, and the “Keep BR Serving” campaign was born. 

The “Keep BR Serving” campaign directs 20% of gift card sales at participating restaurants toward covering lost tips and wages for the restaurant’s employees.

The impact of this dine-in restriction reaches 1,600 restaurants in Baton Rouge, $500 million in economic activity and nearly 30,000 employees, according to Broome.

Rotolo’s owner Mitch Rotolo spearheads the effort to recruit participating restaurants. The campaign has reached out to more than 200 businesses, and any restaurant is welcome to join.

The program has received a positive response, Broome says, though they don’t yet have exact figures on how many gift cards have been sold. Broome credits the success to involvement of highly-established restaurants and notable restauranteurs who support the program.

And, in the case that the state extends the dine-in blackout, will the “Keep BR Serving” campaign be extended?

“Absolutely,” Broome says. 

The program might even outlive the blackout due to its “staying power,” she says. Though it is unclear as to what that might look like.

Gift cards can be purchased in-person at participating restaurants anytime before the end of the dine-in shutdown, and these gift cards don’t expire. A purchasing website is in the works for those who wish to participate from the safety of their homes, but in the meantime you can find more information on the campaign’s Facebook page. A list of participating restaurants and the latest information can be found at keepbrserving.com.

“We strongly encourage folks in our community to buy gift cards and give them to their employees, buy gift cards and give them to healthcare workers, buy gift cards and give them to first responders, neighbors and teachers,” Broome says. “They can buy these gift cards and use them now, for themselves, or later, for gifts.”

Editor’s note: 225 is a sponsor of the Keep BR Serving campaign, but the decision to cover the campaign was made independently by our editorial staff.