The genesis of the Newport County Dinner Club was a favorite pastime for owners David and Nancy Rosenberg. The young couple loved eating out, specifically in Newport County.
They had seen publications, all print in that late 1980s era, which described attractions for Newport, but nothing that honed in on restaurants. “Something that would focus on just the restaurants, so no one really had to leave the island,” explained David Rosenberg.
The concept? That restaurateurs would agree to provide a discounted meal for patrons who bought the Dinner Club membership book, because the patrons would in all likelihood spend money on appetizers, drinks and desserts.
For a modest price of $20 for the annual membership, the customers get discounted meals and the restaurants have a new market of first-time customers.
Begun in 1989 with 22 participating restaurants, the Newport County Dinner Club has grown over the years to include 80-plus establishments. The membership is now an information booklet and plastic card, which is stamped by the restaurants, and sold annually to almost 4,000 people, Rosenberg said.
The restaurants are all in the communities of Newport County: Jamestown, Newport, Middletown, Portsmouth, Tiverton and Little Compton. They agree to provide a “buy-one-get-one-free” dinner, lunch or breakfast (in the case of breakfast restaurants), and can block out their busy months or times.
Customers are drawn to the restaurant variety, Rosenberg said, and the cost of the annual membership is covered in one or two meals at most.
Diners understand when they purchase the membership that the restaurants have busy times or months that may be unavailable for the discount. Restaurants appreciate that the program directs business to them when they need it most, typically the winter months, according to Rosenberg.
Most of the people who buy the memberships live in Newport County, but the Rosenbergs have also found that retirees who live in Florida and warmer climates in the winter purchase it for use when they return to Rhode Island. Military personnel at Naval Station Newport also are a substantial market.
Most of the sales are now conducted online, at www.newportcountydinnerclub.com. Memberships also are sold at local stores.
The Newport County Chamber of Commerce recently awarded the dinner club an “Excellence in Business” award.
Initially, Rosenberg said, the program focused on dinners. As he got feedback from retirees, who often like to meet for lunch, he expanded the program to include lunches and breakfast. Participating restaurants include recognizable names such as 22 Bowen’s Wine Bar & Grille in Newport, well-known for its steaks. Boat House Restaurant in Tiverton, a popular seafood restaurant, is also a member. This year, Caleb & Broad in Newport joined. •