Some 150 cities across the U.S. now observe a variation of Restaurant Week, according to OpenTable. The marketing event typically takes place during midwinter, with operators offering prix-fixe menus to lure diners during the slower season. So, how can operators make the most of Restaurant Week? Read on for some ideas.
1. Focus on signature dishes ...
“The best move is to feature those four or five dishes that you’ve built your reputation on,” says Ashlee Aubin, executive chef of Wood, a new-American restaurant in Chicago. “That is what’s going to bring people back.” Restaurant Week brings in 30% more covers at Wood than the week before it, Aubin says.
2. ... Or create special items just for the week
Sixth Engine, a gastropub in a former firehouse in Washington, D.C., takes the opposite approach. “We wanted to make it more of an exclusive experience, and decided to create a few new dishes that were offered only on the Restaurant Week menu,” General Manager Dustin Morris says. To save on food costs, the restaurant builds new dishes from existing SKUs.
3. Look for upsell opportunities
The allure of Restaurant Week for consumers, of course, is the fixed price—typically $33 to $44 for a multicourse dinner. But operators are finding ways to boost those prix-fixe checks. “We have a section on our menu that features smaller, snacky things that are good for sharing,” Aubin says. “If you have a table of four and you get them to add on one or two of those things … [or] you get two rounds of drinks on a table, then you’re at your normal check average.”
Sixth Engine puts together signature beverage pairings for each course, offered for an additional $20 per person. “Since the guests had a choice of three items for each course on the food side, we chose two beers, two wines and two cocktails to offer as pairing options for each course,” Morris says. “This gave people the opportunity to tailor the meal to their tastes and make it more of an interactive experience, as well as showcasing everything we do well at Sixth Engine."
4. Take advantage of low-cost marketing
Because Restaurant Week attracts media attention, be sure to make yourself available for TV spots, social media campaigns and more, says Aisha Haire, co-owner of Haire’s Gulf Shrimp, which has participated in Chicago’s Black Restaurant Week. “We had a local reporter come to the restaurant and do a story,” Haire says. “Right after it aired, the phone went ringing like crazy. … It’s better than paying for advertising.” Haire estimates that her restaurant’s sales jumped 30% during the promotion, and it’s seen continued increases due in part to repeat business from those who discovered the restaurant during that week.
5. Staff appropriately
After cutting hours post-holidays, Restaurant Week is the time to reel employees back in. “Make sure you can think through the logistics of what you are going to execute and make sure you have the people there who can do that,” says John Manion, chef-owner of Chicago’s La Sirena Clandestina and El Che Bar, noting that his concept is “staffed up every night” during that week, with the addition of one prep shift and one line cook nightly.