Dinner on the Dock rolls out a welcome mat
By Sue Tiffin
Published Aug. 6, 2019
The last day before vacation often requires so much energy, it’s a good reminder of why a vacation is necessary: squeezing in everything that can be done in the office before packing bags, loading the car with kids, pets and everything else that might be needed, dealing with traffic and more bathroom breaks than you intended and then unpacking it all in order to finally relax. The last thing most visitors want to do once they get to the Highlands is cook.
This week, the Dinner on the Dock program was launched by the county to promote an easy meal available locally.
“We wanted to start a program that would convince folks that they don’t need to eat fast food on their way to the cottage, or to any of the other amazing destinations that we have here in the Haliburton Highlands,” said Thom Lambert, food tourism facilitator. “Our sense was, you know, the cottage means so much to people, why not make that very first dinner a really good dinner?”
So far, seven restaurants and food providers are involved in the program, offering take-out, pre-ordered, ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat meals.
“We called it Dinner on the Dock because everybody knows what that means, everybody knows that that’s a destination in the Highlands,” said Lambert. “We’re also marketing it to folks who might be going to all kinds of different places; they might be going to a campsite, they might be going to a friend’s house, they might be going out for an overnight camp on one of our beautiful lakes, and there’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to eat really good food when they go do that.”
High-quality food is being made from scratch in a lot of good kitchens all over the county, Lambert said, but not everyone will think of to-go options available at some of their favourite dine-in spots. The program promotes what is already out there, or gives restaurants and food providers the chance to offer something new, but Lambert acknowledges Dinner on the Dock was rolled out at a time when the local food industry was managing their busiest season and said the program will continue throughout the year with anyone able to jump on board when ready.
“People in the food industry are so busy that they have a difficult time stepping outside of their own reality,” he said. “They want to collaborate but it’s just finding the time and really, we’re hoping a program like this just opens it up and says, you know, there is a connection between your restaurant or your kitchen and everything that’s happening in the Highlands.”
The launch of the program last week was met with great success, according to Lambert, who said the social media response had over 10,000 hits in the first 24 hours.
“You can imagine, it’s quite a challenge just to get to the cottage, and you can just imagine being able to stop, grab your dinner ... and you just roll into the cottage and boom, you can just relax, you can open your bottle of wine and have a cold beer and have a really lovely home-cooked meal on your very first night at the cottage,” he said.
The program is on offer, of course, to local residents too, who might want to beat the heat or take a break from preparing a summer meal for family or visitors.
“There’s always that Friday or Saturday where you’re just like, oh man, it’s really hot, I don’t want to cook, let’s go to Rotary Park down in Minden, and on the way, let’s pick up dinner at one of the participants of Dinner on the Dock,” said Lambert.
Restaurants and food providers from throughout the county are represented.
At Abbey Gardens (1012 Garden Gate Drive, Haliburton), meals are available for two or four people by calling ahead. AM/PM Outdoor Gourmet (4071 Elephant Lake Road, Harcourt) offers fresh ‘Grab and Go,’ barbecue take-out, custom catering and outdoor adventure food. Baked and Battered (128 Highland Street) is serving up fresh-frozen cottage meals and soups, healthy power bowls and fish and chips. The Cookhouse (1095 Redkenn Road, Haliburton) can offer their entire menu as take-out. Molly’s Bistro Bakery (170 Bobcaygeon Road, Minden) has at the ready an extensive menu of from scratch, prepared meals to go, as well as take-out. Rhubarb (9201 Hwy 35, Carnarvon), has farm-to-table upscale food to go. And South Algonquin Diner (2269 Loop Road, Wilberforce) offers diner-style homemade meals and desserts available for take-out.
“We really hope that one of the things we’re doing is get rid of the need to walk in the place and sit around and wait for 15 minutes for your food,” said Lambert. “A lot of these places are doing online ordering, and I know several other places do. We’re really hoping that it will be something a little more convenient and focused than regular take-out.”
The program’s marketing will change with the season, as summer turns into fall, marketing to those headed to hunt camps.
“If you think about the hundreds of people who are driving up here, hunt camp is a beloved place to people,” said Lambert. “As the tagline for this program is memorable food for memorable places, for a lot of people, a hunt camp is one of the most memorable places that they grow up going to. They spend a lifetime going up there with the same group of guys, and we’re going to say to them, why not take some really great home-baked lasagna, or pick up a complete dinner for your first night at the hunt camp.”
In the winter, the marketing will shift to the snowmobiling market.
“My absolute dream for something like this is that sometime in the fairly near future people will be delivering gourmet meals to people by snowmobile in ice huts,” said Lambert. “You think, you can eat pepperettes and a sandwich that you picked up somewhere, or you could be waiting for someone to knock on the door saying hey, your hot lunch is here. We really think that’s where we are with food in the county right now, and something like that that sounds like a pipe dream, we really believe that it’s just a nudge away.”
Lambert said the idea for Dinner on the Dock was based on a model created by Michelle Delaire of Sage on Hwy 35 at Halls Lake. Though her pre-ordered prepared meal Friday Supper Club is not being offered this summer, Lambert said it sparked inspiration for him.
“I would watch her all summer, she’d announce what her dinners were and it seemed like three hours later she was announcing that she was sold out,” said Lambert. “I really have to give a nod to her, that she came up with a great idea, and I kind of looked at that and thought, you know what, we could do that county-wide. ”
The Dinner on the Dock program hopes to highlight what’s already there, increasing revenue for people that are already in operation without them having to create something new, but also be an incubator program encouraging small operators with access to commercial kitchens to take orders over social media on Wednesday for pick-up on Friday. Lambert notes that everyone is participating in a different way, in a way that works for their business.
“Small entrepreneurs have to be creative to make it work, and our job is to kind of create the fertile ground for those really creative ideas to find success and we really hope that that’s what this program is.”
Besides cottagers and local residents, Lambert said the program works well for those on their way to a canoe trip, or ATV’ers who want a home-cooked trail lunch, noting Dinner on the Dock reaches out to a different market.
“It also feels like it’s just us as the county throwing out the welcome mat, and saying to people, we know what you go through to get up here, and we really appreciate you coming to our corner of the world, and here, why not have a great dinner while you’re here,” he said.
To learn more about the Dinner on the Dock program or plan for dinner, visit dinneronthedock.com. To participate in the program as a meal provider, contact Lambert at firstname.lastname@example.org.