Restaurant Week is popping up in cities around the country, offering guests discounted multi-course prix fixe meals. This can be a great way to come together as a community and drive traffic to your restaurant in a time during a slow period; Some restaurants report a 50% increase in volume throughout the Week.
But does offering guests a discounted multi-course meal make good business sense for your restaurant? You’re likely paying staff to work more hours, and you’re putting stress on kitchen staff by serving more courses per guest than usual.
At the end of the day, is it worth it? The answer is…it depends on you approach it. Here’s a Restaurant Week Guide:
How To Participate In Restaurant Week
For most cities, there are guidelines, fees and rules to get involved in Restaurant Week. For other cities, there may be nothing… yet.
Let’s use NYC Restaurant Week as an example. To be considered:
- Restaurants must first apply
- Restaurants must offer discounts from 30-50%.
- Restaurant pays an annual fee for NYC & Company membership and NYC Restaurant Week.
“Participating restaurants have all been evaluated based on the same set of criteria. This helps ensure that restaurants are of a similar caliber. The criteria that determines whether an invitation is issued includes: price point (NYC Restaurant Week prices should be a 30–50%+ discount off of the regular menu), ratings, reviews, chef bio, awards, etc.”.
In NYC, Restaurant Week is held twice annually in July/August and January/February and can last up to 3 weeks. However, your city may have it’s own set of rules.
Typically, Restaurant Week is put on by a local Chamber of Commerce or Restaurant Association. They’ll be the ones dictating the rules you need to follow and helping you with marketing and involvement. A quick Google Search will give you what you need to know, specific to your city, to get involved.
We rounded up some Restaurant Week Menu Tips from the Experts:
No matter the reason you chose to participate in your area’s Restaurant Week, it can be a lot of pressure to make sure every guest has an amazing experience. Jon Baumgartner, general manager of Biga on the Banks, a restaurant in San Antonio, Texas, serving new American cuisine, has some tips on how to make a great first–and second–impression.
1. Ensure your Restaurant Week Menu Represents the Restaurant
“For Restaurant Week, the most important thing to do is to make sure your menu represents the restaurant, not just the discounted price. We used to be very careful not to include items that were too costly because we had a fixed rate to charge,” Baumgartner says. “Now, we try to be a lot more inventive with our menu so people can be exposed to the talent in the kitchen. Hopefully, that impression will bring them back before the next Restaurant Week.”
Jennifer Cantin, director of marketing and development for Long Island’s Lessing’s, Inc. hospitality group, which includes Sandbar, View, and Mirabelle Restaurant & Tavern, also stresses the importance of a killer first impression.
“Many of our guests during Long Island Restaurant Week are visiting us for the first time. Our goal is to provide them with a memorable experience and wow them,” she says.
Make sure your menu represents the restaurant, not just the discounted price.
2. Increase Loyalty and Drive Repeat Business with Emails and Gift Cards
Cantin also has a unique approach for making sure the guests’ Restaurant Week experience at the restaurant is not their last: “To encourage our Restaurant Week diners to visit us again, every table is presented with a $25 gift certificate, as a gift, when they are presented their check. The gift card expires six weeks later, and is an incentive for the diners to visit again at a later date.”
Not interested in dealing out a gift certificate for each table? There are other ways to drive guests back to your restaurant after Restaurant Week.
Baumgartner says they use the reservations system to make a note of each customer who came in for Restaurant Week.
“This tells us two things about the guest,” he says. “One, they are local. Two, they are possibly interested in other specials we run. If we retain their email, we can target our marketing for certain email blasts that contain similar offers, [like] discounted three-course meals and events that support the culinary arts in San Antonio.”
Restaurant Week can be a lot of work, but depending on your team and your ability to bring those guests back in again and again, it can be worth it to participate.
There is nothing quite like restaurant week to build customer loyalty. Take the stress out of Restaurant Week and get your planning guide.Download The Guide
3. Over deliver on expectations
The harsh truth that your profit margins will be lower than usual during Restaurant Week shouldn’t mean skimping on staff. With more reservations and new diners, you want to be sure that customer service is your highest priority. Servers should we well trained in the promotion, and willing to go the extra mile. Remember, a week with lots of new diners means lots more online reviews, so be sure they’re saying great things.
4. Jump on social media
Restaurant Week organizers likely have their own social media handles, and hashtags that they’re using for the city-wide event. Know what they are, and use them frequently. This is a valuable opportunity to reach new audiences and make this a real community event. Encourage your customers to share their experiences by printing your social media handles on the prix-fixe menu. Added bonus: you have a chance to make a connection and interact with new and returning customers.
Don’t just sit back; join the conversation by connecting on Facebook, linking from your website and using the hashtag on Twitter! Persimmon shares great behind-the-scenes Instagram shots on Twitter with a Restaurant Week hashtag.
5. Make a video.
It’s surprising more restaurants don’t do this. Consider making a “teaser” video that takes a look at some of your menu options a couple weeks before Restaurant Week begins. During the weeks, you could take brief customer review clips or you can do a recap afterwards to capture how fun and successful Restaurant Week was! Here’s NYC’s promo video:
6. Volunteer to do a demo, workshop or tasting!
Restaurant Weeks often feature such events, and if you have the time, they are fantastic opportunities! You don’t need to have a restaurant to participate, so this is a great way for artisan or gourmet shops, liquor stores and other food businesses to participate.
Newport Restaurant Week recently featured a shop tour and a workshop for deli cuts with Angelo Pirri from Aquidneck Meat Market.
7. Create a Restaurant Week menu for vegetarians or vegans.
Standard menu items are not usually compatible with people who don’t eat meat or animal products. Providing an alternative for them with your Restaurant Week offerings is a great way to reach out and welcome those customers.
Clean Plates highlights their Brooklyn Restaurant Week picks, featuring the best vegetarian, vegan and sustainable food options:
8. Check your stats.
Check your Upserve stats! Pay attention to all the data that this promotion will provide you with, so you can use it year round, and for future events. Rmemeber, campaign insights shows you the guest’s lifetime value – you may be surprised to learn how much revenue a Restaurant Week first time diner can bring in. Plus, find out which dishes were the most popular, or which server had the best numbers and use that info to your advantage.
Even if You Don’t Participate, Still Compete
While Restaurant Week can be beneficial to some restaurants, that’s not the case for everyone. But even if you aren’t participating, and you need to figure out a way to still compete for guest attention with the restaurants that are.
Vladimir Borodin, CEO of Burger & Lobster Group USA, says that while his restaurant doesn’t participate, the marketing around Restaurant Week provides a boost for existing menu offerings.
“New York City’s Restaurant Week gives us a natural platform to tout our terrific value, essentially reminding people every week at Burger & Lobster is ‘Restaurant Week,’” he says. “Diners can enjoy a four dish meal, which is what the special Restaurant Week menus translate to, for less than Restaurant Week pricing, in a stylish full-service establishment.”
At the Burger & Lobster Group instead of offering a restaurant week menu, instead, they keep their own deals during this time since it is a similar deal. For lunch, they have six options that come in under the $29 price point of January 2018’s NYC Restaurant Week, and for dinner, everything on the menu, except combos and big boy lobsters, can be paired with their desserts for less – and in some cases much less – than the $42 Restaurant Week price. This way they can show the value of the deals they always have to their guests who want to keep coming back at the same price point.
Don’t get so caught up in the hype of Restaurant Week that you lose sight of the specials and menu items that you already offer.
“We’re very aware of NYC Restaurant Week and how it affects our business,” says Mirso Lekic, principal of Sylvan Hospitality Group which includes Manhattan’s Tudor City Steakhouse. “To counteract the drop-off in covers when people are bargain hunting, at Tudor City Steakhouse we will offer a prix fixe menu at the Restaurant Week price. Since we already have a lunch prix fixe at $29.95, we don’t have to do anything different. So while we may not be part of the official restaurant week, we can compete and when people ask if we have restaurant week menus, we can tell them, ‘yes.’”
For even more tips, download our Restaurant Week 101 Guide.