The Benefits of ‘Restaurant Week’
Why You Should Get Involved, Tips For Starting Your Own & More
New York Restaurant Week launched in 1992 by NYC & Company, Inc. as a lunch-only concept to drive diners into establishments during the dead of winter — considered the slowest time of the year.
As its popularity grew, and more Manhattan restaurants jumped aboard, the promotional event extended to dinner. The organizers also added a week in summer. The program has its fans and detractors, yet it’s the template that’s been duplicated around the globe.
There’s Nashville Originals, which twice a year showcases a collection of the Music City’s best locally owned eateries. Kansas City Restaurant Week encourages patrons to dine and shop deals all over town. Memphis Downtown Dining Week happens in the fall and spotlights 40 top spots. And while Portland Cocktail Week is an industry-only extravaganza, it’s gotten so popular that many drink-related events have spilled over for the masses at restaurants and cocktail lounges.
Chicago’s official restaurant week is so successful that more than 300 restaurants participate during the two-week period. The $500 entry fee, however, is a bit steep for smaller outfits, which is why restaurateur Kevin Boehm created Chicago Chef Week in 2009.
“The economy was terrible that year. It was the worst time I had ever seen in my 22 years in business,” recalls Boehm, a partner in Chicago-based restaurants Boka, Girl and the Goat, GT Fish & Oyster, Momotaro and Perennial. “Chicago Restaurant Week was expensive at the time because you had to be a member of Choose Chicago (the official tourism organization for the city). There was a cost associated per restaurant, so when we created Chicago Chef Week, we took all the expenses on the chin. We did the website, advertising etc. for the first three years. We were looking for an affordable option for people to be part of.”
Boehm says that it was important for his event to set itself apart from Chicago Restaurant Week. In addition to offering the prerequisite prix-fixe feasts, the chefs at these locally owned establishments feature dishes not normally on the menu. Boehm says it’s an opportunity for diners to see them at their creative best.
“During restaurant week, there are so many people coming into your restaurant for the very first time, and you really want to put your best foot forward,” he says. “We encourage chefs to create menus that best exemplify who they are as artists.”