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Reader Q&A: What is Restaurant Week?


Reader Q&A: What is Restaurant Week?

Restaurant Week features prix fixe menu specials at reduced prices, to encourage business during slow times.

Question: Reader Q&A: What is Restaurant Week?
Dear Guide to Restauranting,

My local chamber of commerce is organizing a restaurant week and invited my restaurant to participate in it. What is restaurant week, exactly? Should my restaurant take part in it? If all the restaurants in my area are offering specials at the same price at the same time, how is that good for my business?

Sandy S.

Answer: Dear Sandy,

Restaurant Week originated in New York City in 1992. Since then it has spread to cities across the US. The purpose of Restaurant Week is to encourage dining out during typically slow seasons, mainly January – March, though Restaurant Weeks can be any time of the year, depending on the location. Local chambers of commerce, business organizations, or restaurant associations usually organize an areas Restaurant Week. Local restaurants pay a membership fee to participate in Restaurant Week and in return, they receive promotion and advertising and other perks, such as online reservation options. Restaurant Week usually extends beyond a week. In NYC, the promotion runs 3 weeks.

Restaurant Week varies from place to place. The general concept is that local restaurants partner with local tourist organizations or chambers of commerce to promote a week of lunch and dinner specials. Other partners may include local businesses, banks and food vendors.

As to your questions about how restaurant week can be beneficial when so many restaurants are offering specials at the same price at the same time, the rationale behind Restaurant Week, when restaurants offer reduced prices for a prix fixe menu, is that what they lose in check averages they gain in sales volume. Some restaurants report increased volume as high as 40% during Restaurant Week.

With more and more people watching their budgets and limiting their dining out, restaurant week appeals to them. Chicago reported that 2012 was the more successful restaurant week ever, with over 20.9 million dollars in revenue and 444,000 people dining out over 10 days. For many people, restaurant week is a chance to dine out at multiple restaurants over the course of several days.

Menu prices range from $20 - $50 for lunch or dinner. Some cities use the current year, to set prices. For example, in Baltimore, you can pick up a two course lunch for $15.13 or a three course dinner for $30.13.

While Restaurant Week was at first promoted in large cities, many less populated areas have adopted the promotions. In Maine (my home state) where the population for the entire state hovers at one million people, Restaurant Week is a state wide promotion, hosted by the Maine Restaurant Association. Vermont, a similarly sized state with no major cities, also does a state wide Restaurant Week running from the end of April through the beginning of May.

Restaurant Week is also more than just getting people out to dinner. It is a community wide event that brings both people and local businesses and organizations together. There are many other activities that accompany the promotion, from cooking contests to beer tastings. For example, during Vermont Restaurant Week they offer parents night out promotions, food themed movie showings and readings from authors writing on topical food issues. In Boise, Idaho, discounted parking is available during restaurant week, to encourage dining out in the city’s downtown district. In Santa Fe, local hotels offer special packages for Restaurant Week, as well as cooking demonstrations.

If you are looking for a way to boost business in slower times, Restaurant Week is a great promotion to try. If done well, it will grow over time and become a tradition that your locals will look forward to.

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