Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The missed opportunity of Restaurant Week promotions, or maybe there's a third option

Restaurant Week started in New York City in the early 1990s, and since then cities across the country have adopted the event as their own.

Many restaurant week promotions have a winter and summer edition, to boost restaurant patronage during periods when business normally wanes. In theory, the event isn't just supposed to be a price promotion, but designed to encourage restaurant goers to sample new places.

While restaurants might not make "more profit" during the week, even with up to a 40% increase in business, it keeps people working during slow times, and if properly leveraged is a way to develop one-time visitors into long term customers.

This week is DC's winter edition of Restaurant Week, sponsored by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington to boost restaurant business during traditional slow times in the city.  While originally focused on restaurants in Washington, DC only, it has been extended to include suburban locations.

One night we thought to go out and try some place new and while looking found that the website isn't particularly sharp and once you click through, many of the "neighborhoods" listed in the pull down menu don't even have participating restaurants.

Crane and Turtle in Petworth, features French and Japanese fusion cuisine.  Photo:  Matt Roth, New York Times.

Add a third week to Restaurant Week, focusing on neighborhoods.  Maybe since the event was originally created to promote restaurants in the city's bigger destinations (Downtown, Georgetown, etc.) it's not a surprise that neighborhood-side of Restaurant Week is under-developed.

Now that many of DC's neighborhood commercial districts (Shaw, Petworth, Bloomingdale, Capitol Hill, etc.) are developing into decent restaurant destinations, a trend even recognized by the New York Times in "Washington has more on its plate: Restaurants in D.C. are moving into residential neighborhoods."

In response, why not develop a third leg to Restaurant Week, a separate week focused on promoting neighborhood districts and their restaurants, helping smaller restaurants to develop and bringing attention to this next phase of restaurant and commercial revitalization in the city.

Barracks Row Main Street's Taste of 8th is held in May.

Note that some commercial district revitalization organizations sponsor "Taste of" events which do something similar.  But a broader promotion such as this would bring much more attention to what otherwise are very local events.

Other ways to be creative with restaurants and eating out as potential elements for different "Restaurant Week" connected promotions.

A form of pop ups or tactical urbanism, Helsinki’s Restaurant Day, a  municipally-sanctioned challenge to government regulation, is a day  (now four weekends annually) where anyone can set up a “restaurant” and  sell food to the public.  Restaurants can be set up on a park bench, run out of a car, located in a house or apartment, or be more more traditional.  Restaurant Day started in Helsinki, but now takes place in more than 30 countries.

Supermarkets.  In Chicago, the upscale grocer Mariano's is participating in Restaurant Week, according to Supermarket News,offering lunch for two for $22.  Mariano's focuses on prepared foods and organizes part of their stores into restaurant-like subsections like an Oyster Bar, barbecue joint, or Sushi bar.

Now I suppose traditional restaurants don't like the fact that supermarkets are increasingly competing with them for prepared meal sales.  A number of supermarkets are developing eat-in areas.  Whole Foods and Wegman's, a Rochester NY company that is opening stores throughout the Mid-Atlantic, have eat-in areas in most of the stores.

Wegman's coffee and tea bar in a Rochester, New York location.  

Wegman's is developing branded restaurants as part of their opening of new stores.  So far they have four different concepts (Italian, tavern, burgers, American).  Certain Whole Foods stores have similar, albeit more counter-oriented, set ups, from pizza to Mexican.

Also see "Thinking Like a Restaurant" in Progressive Grocer  and "At Long Last, a Bar at the Supermarket – With $1 Bottles During Happy Hour!" from Time Magazine.

Many supermarkets are doing more of this type of development as they begin to recognize that are need to competing for the total amount of spending on food, especially when more people are cooking less and eating out more.

Note that for many years I've argued that urban supermarkets should re-orient their stores and set up produce and prepared food areas, along with eat-in cafe type options along the front of the store, open-air. See "(Urban) Grocery Shopping."

Locally, Harris-Teeter is known for their prepared food areas.  The new Safeway in Petworth has upgraded their prepared food section and has a nice eat-in area with booths and wi-fi.  The new Giant stores in Shaw and Cathedral Heights have similar sections that are bigger and nicer.

Participating in Restaurant Week would be a way for these establishments to showcase changes and give opportunities to their staff to do new things.

Public markets.  I'd say places like Eastern Market could participate in Restaurant Week by organizing a pop up restaurant for the night time and serving special dinners, not unlike what Seasonal Pantry does, as a way to draw new audiences.

Image of meal at Seasonal Pantry from Washingtonian Magazine.

Now that Seasonal Pantry is shutting down and moving to Little Washington, Virginia, there will be a "hole in the market" that some other erstwhile entrepreneur can step in and fill.

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At 5:21 PM, Blogger Betsy McDaniel said...

FYI - Bloomingdale restaurants held a promotion during a week in early January and donated a portion of their sales to the Bloomingdale Civic Association.

At 10:21 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Harris Teeter is known for prepared foods?

If you remember about the 965 Flordia proposal, they wanted something similar to what you suggested. The locals (me) wanted a Harris Teeter as a regular supermarket would be more useful. It is an interesting area as there a tons of supermakets around in about a 1.1 mile radius but nothing "walkable" or next door.

I think WF is missing the boat on a more upscale eating experience. In both P st and West End it is disguisting. Taxi drivers and students.

Eately is also a good model.

At 11:57 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I haven't been to many WFs in other cities other than Tustin, which is pretty amazing.

But according to the Biz. Journal, and I missed the story before I wrote this piece, Whole Foods is testing new concepts at the Columbia, MD store.

Anyway, while I understand your concern about wanting a "traditional" grocery store within 1 mile, in most places that's a pretty tall order.

Having a Whole Foods (granted not mainline), Giant and Harris-Teeter (and Trader Joes) within about that distance (granted the Giant is uphill) is pretty good. The H-T in Kalorama is 1.2 miles.

Granted walking that distance sucks. But biking as you know, makes it pretty simple. Although I also think that bike-based delivery options should be made more widely available.

The thing with the HT proposal though I can understand, because from a psychographic standpoint, more residents in your area are likely to consume food out of home than they are to buy and cook.

2. fwiw, when I first moved to DC in 1987, across the street from what is now Whole Foods on P St. was an IGA affiliated independent supermarket, where I would shop sometimes because it was a block from where I worked.

I did mention in a post a couple years ago that cities and counties should take a more fine grained approach to planning for food access via supermarkets, working to ensure that there are markets at different price points. (E.g., I go to Aldi all the time for produce and certain staples.)

At 5:54 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I hate to admit we haven't managed to get to the Bloomingdale restaurants, although we always talk about it. It'd be great to get an introduction via a "taste of". To be honest, that's part of what drove this post. I don't think any Bloomingdale restaurants were participating (evidently they don't need to which is good for them). But it was something we thought about.

Similarly, a bunch of restaurants have popped up in Shaw. I neglected to mention that stretch of restaurants on 11th St. in Columbia Heights...

After going to Sumner (because our house was formerly owned by a DCPS teacher we were hoping to find info on her) afterwards on Saturday we were looking to eat on 17th St. and nothing appealed to Suzanne, so we went up to Coupe.

At 3:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ha! You blew it, Sherlock!


...both on 17th Street north of P.

At 4:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

" In both P st and West End it is disguisting. Taxi drivers and students."

lol Charlie.... maybe Jose Andres will bring a little class to the locale with his new "Beefsteak" (tomatoes not meat) restaurant across the street from the Foggy Bottom (not West End) Whole Foods.

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