by Steve Desroches
Spring restaurant opening parties have become a beloved tradition marking the start of the tourist season. It’s a chance for everyone to gather after a long winter, to revisit a favorite restaurant, or to become acquainted with a new one. It’s a chance for a restaurant to build the all-important buzz in town as “the” place to go. But at its core it’s a community event, a chance to say hello before the thousands of tourists that come each summer pour into town and make getting a table a little more difficult.
While the idea of a restaurant opening party is certainly not native nor unique to Provincetown, it became an integral part of the annual social calendar and the town’s culture beginning in the 1970s.
“It seemed like everyone had an opening,” says Candice Collins-Boden, the executive director of the Provincetown Chamber of Commerce, of the mid-1970s in Provincetown. “Everything closed then. After Labor Day everything closed, so when something opened it was a big deal.”
The openings in those days tended to be more intimate and more like family gatherings, offering full meals and open bars, (before giving away alcohol for free became illegal in Massachusetts). Come the 1980s the openings became more sophisticated, says Collins-Boden, who has been at the Chamber of Commerce since 1974 and has observed all the fads and trends, visitor tastes, and business practices that have changed over time.
“Then the economy went into a downfall in the late 1980s,” says Collins-Boden, and the opening parties began to fall out of fashion as many businesses cut their budgets. “Things change. Everything changes.”
Opening parties were sporadic, catching on again by the 1990s. Throughout the 2000s they grew again, becoming an expected part of the spring season. But they also became part of a new strategy for restaurants as the demographics of the town changed, along with the travel industry.
“We’re becoming less year round again,” says Collins-Boden, noting that the shrinking year-round population phenomenon has happened before in Provincetown’s history, as is the case with a fragile economy like ours. “Before 9/11 we were doing really well.”
The long lasting effect of September 11 on the travel industry mixed with the economic collapse and the gap between the rich and everyone else, there have been demographic changes throughout the country. Over the past decade in Provincetown the majority of homes went from being resident-owned to being owned by seasonal visitors or out-of-towners looking for investment properties. As a result, the winters are quieter than they have been in decades. What does this have to do with restaurant opening parties?
“The parties are a way to introduce second homeowners to restaurants in town,” says Collins-Boden. “We’ve become more seasonal again and that makes the opening parties better. People are trying harder.”
With the season already short, and so dependent on the weather and other factors out of the town’s control, restaurants need to make the season count. You have to hit the ground running, and a party is a good way to do that. More and more restaurants that previously didn’t have opening parties are now adding their own to the May calendar.
“It’s like a wave,” says Collins-Boden of the renewed interest in opening parties. “I think that the openings are fantastic. Now it’s really fun again.”
Spring Opening Parties
May 5: Central House at the Crown and Anchor, 247 Commercial St. 5-8:30 p.m.
May 6: Fire and Ice at the Shipwreck Lounge, 10 Carver St., 6-8 p.m.
May 7: Red Inn, 15 Commercial St., 6-10 p.m.
May 8: Saki, 258 Commercial St., 6 p.m.
May 8: Patio, 328 Commercial St., 6 – 8:30 p.m.
May 28: Sal’s Place, 99 Commercial St., 6-8:30 p.m.