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.
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.
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 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.
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.