Christine England, a real estate professional with NV Realty Group who has ties to the Charleston restaurant industry, formed the now-famous Facebook group “Lowcountry Eat Out" for one primary purpose: to help restaurants communicate directly with residents and provide real time updates regarding service status. “My husband is the executive chef at Tavern and Table on Shem Creek, and we have a ton of friends who are chefs or restaurant owners. When the stay-at-home order began, I could not find one, timely source that provided information on whether local restaurants were open or closed, take-out menus, or delivery options,” she explains.
Though restaurants or their representing public relations firms submitted links to media outlets, the constant changes made it impossible to provide up-to-date information without users having to click on each individual restaurant link or Facebook page. Moreover, smaller establishments without social media presence did not have a direct way to reach customers. “Restaurants were adapting and changing hours, menus, delivery options at lightning speed, so I decided to collect their information and put it all in one spot. THAT is what made the group so popular. It wasn’t a list of links, it was actual information,” notes England.
Within a few short days, restaurants began showcasing daily specials, foodies began posting pictures, and the popularity of the site grew exponentially. Mt. Pleasant resident Joseph Wren frequently visits the page to determine dinner options. “From the fried fish platters at Red’s to the burger baskets at Tavern and Table, our family enjoyed biking to nearby establishments to pick-up meals. Not only did we enjoy delicious food at a reasonable price, but we felt good supporting our local business owners, many of whom are friends or neighbors,” he says.
Since its inception, Lowcountry Eat Out has grown from a few friends to 23,352 members. It continues to be the go-to source for both Charleston residents and visitors, who peruse the page to find local favorites. Members range from age 16 to 84 and hail from every corner of the Tri-county area; as such, trying to please the palate of an array of taste buds while also highlighting less expensive choices is not an easy task. However, England’s background in marketing and branding, specifically experiential marketing that “brings the brand to life,” proves to be advantageous in designing a platform that benefits a wide demographic. “Some members want the page to be super foodie and feature only the classiest chefs, while others desire to have everyday spots that are very affordable. Ultimately, by staying true to the vision of supporting favorite restaurants and showing them love, not criticism, I can appeal to a wide audience,” notes England.
Managing a group page of this size is not not without challenge. “In the beginning, I was cussed out for being the reason COVID-19 was spreading, then it morphed into I wasn’t doing enough to help everyone. Most recently, I was read the riot act and told I was a dictator for not allowing negative reviews on the page,” recalls England. “I politely reminded the member that we are not YELP!” she smiles. Another time, members had a knee-jerk reaction in siding with a restaurant, and England rivaled it to the scene in the movie Footloose when they are burning books that talk about dance in the library. She joked, “We can’t be those book-burning people!”
By and large, however, the majority of members have rallied around restaurants and supported them throughout this economic crisis. Additionally, smaller restaurants with no public relations team are able to be on the same playing field as more refined establishments. Without England’s Facebook group, the Charleston food scene may not have survived. In fact, England was the recent recipient of the Jefferson Award for Outstanding Community Service without Expectation of Recognition. “My goal was never to be a famous food blogger or an award winner. It was simply to help my friends,” says England. “It is weird winning an award for sitting at a computer and simply organizing information when really the people of the group did the legwork with time and money,” she adds.
As restaurants begin to reopen, they still face a new strand of struggles. Managing the comfortability of customers, ensuring a safe, clean environment, rehiring servers and wait staff, and operating at 50% capacity while still trying to make a profit is an extremely difficult challenge. “Initially, restaurants employed creative measures to stay afloat. They gave us their all in the form of family meals, great deals, and delivery services. Now that they are allowed to partially reopen, there is a food shortage causing prices to rise. Plus, take-out is down 50-60% and servers are getting paid more on unemployment than they would coming back to work right now,” explains England. “Restaurants can not do it all, and many will have to find a balance to stay in business.” Once again, the community will need to do its part by supporting local dining options in some form or fashion. For her part, England will continue to administrate Lowcountry Eat Out and promote engagement between the community and restaurants.
Specializing in real estate across the Tri-County region, England recognizes the importance of being an active member of the community and prides herself on helping clients find the perfect home for their lifestyle. “I love Charleston,” says England, “and the food scene is a big part of Charleston culture. I want to see eateries weather this storm and start to flourish again, and I want to continue showcasing Charleston’s beauty to clients who wish to call this magnificent place home.”