When the first COVID-19 lockdown hit in early 2020, Michelle and Rick Arsenault, who had bought the Bluebird Café and Grill in Orangeville barely a year before, made a pledge to themselves and to their team that the business would come out of the pandemic stronger than it had been going in.

The key to keeping that pledge was to go digital, something the 40-year-old upscale restaurant, a venerable institution in the town, had never really done.

Armed with a grant from Digital Main Street (DMS), the couple updated their website, looked at new ways to promote the restaurant, added an e-commerce portal to handle mushrooming takeout orders, and greatly upped their social media game.

Not quite a year after implementing this bold digital strategy, revenues are up a whopping 45 percent over pre-pandemic days. Even with the restaurant now open with indoor seating at 50 percent capacity and a popular outdoor deck, the continuing strong takeout business accounts for 44 percent of revenues, up from about one-third prior to the lockdowns.

The most enjoyable and heartwarming aspect of their new digital presence, though, has to be the engagement – and new business – that has been driven by their very active social media presence. With a handful of Digital Main Street training webinars under their belt, the couple leapt into the deep end of the social media pool, becoming far more active on existing channels like Facebook and Instagram. In addition, on the advice of a younger staff member, they launched a TikTok channel, which has had a huge impact with at least one video hitting viral status with more than a million views.

The couple, self-proclaimed “restaurant people,” obviously bring to their online efforts the same authentic hospitality spirit with which they greet guests in person. They are relentless about interacting on their social channels, responding to every shared post and their now-daily Google reviews, a process that can start with their first cup of coffee before leaving the house in the morning and not end until after they get home after the restaurant closes for the night.

Michelle and Rick are determined to keep up the pace even as their pledge is fulfilled and the business is stronger than ever. They credit DMS with giving them the push they needed to respond to the real threat posed by COVID-19 and repeated lockdowns.

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