What is Restaurant Week?
The concept of Restaurant Week is simple! Local restaurants band together, often in conjunction with the area convention and visitors bureau and sometimes their local restaurant association, to plan a week-long fixed-price meal. Participants pay a fee to cover promotional and advertising costs, and sponsors are often solicited for financial and additional promotional contributions.
New York, Chicago, Boston, Denver, San Diego, Miami, Atlanta and Philadelphia are a few of more than 26 major cities nationwide, plus a growing number of smaller communities, hosting restaurant weeks. In addition to showcasing a city’s great dining options, restaurant weeks spur both locals and out-of-town diners to revisit old favorites and, best of all, try new places.
Sound like a daunting undertaking? San Diego restaurateurs organized their first restaurant week in the winter of 2002 – in less than four months – and made a critical and financial splash.
Credit Ingrid Croce, owner of Croce’s (named for her late husband, the popular singer, Jim Croce). Croce, a fireball of energy and enthusiasm and relentless city booster, spearheaded San Diego’s first such effort, using New York as a template. It helps that San Diego has a lively restaurant scene. The city has experienced a renaissance in dining and culture over the past 30 years that parallels the community’s growth. Still, its culinary profile is not as strong as many would like, and Croce is determined to change that. She sees restaurant week as a key tool in that effort. “People are hungry; they want to know where to eat and whether the value is there and this is an opportunity to showcase our bounty,” she notes. “And people who would never drive from downtown to another community will venture out (San Diego’s event is spread out over the vast county) because they realize it’s a value and they’re prepared for good dining. “With the ‘Taste of’ events of the past, people who went to those wouldn’t necessarily go back to the restaurants they sampled,” Croce says. Restaurants participating in the week-long promotion, however, attract guests who dine out all the time but don’t get to try all the restaurants they want to try, she adds. “This focuses people on dining out for an entire week.” Croce, who headed up the 30-person restaurant committee devoted to the week for the San Diego Restaurant Association, together with San Diego Magazine and CONVIS (the marketing arm of the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau), worked to get 75 restaurants on board the first year and organized in the brief time. Business partners included American Express, Costco, U.S. Foods and a local car company. They planned and executed six nights of dining (three courses, three options per course) for $30 per person January 30 through February 4. Participating restaurants paid an entry fee of $5,000, with a food distributor offering each establishment $500- $1000 toward the cost of food.
Restaurateurs originally balked at steep entry fees, but organizers used the money to cover high advertising and promotion costs. One reason New York pushed for two and now four weeks of restaurant week was to give restaurants more mileage out of their advertising and promotion efforts. In San Diego, the promoters mounted a dedicated website (www.sandiegorestaurantweek.com) as well.
Croce reports the promotion was a great success, and a second restaurant week is in the works for next January. Ingrid Croce is also publishing an accompanying cookbook, The San Diego Restaurant Cookbook and to use as a promotional tool for their next event.
Quoted from The Genius of Restaurant Week by Patricia Hochwarth