The positive impact from participating in a Restaurant Week tends to last much longer than the typical seven to 10-day run of the promotion. In fact, Open Table’s 2012 nationwide survey of Restaurant Weeks found that 90 percent of diners are likely to recommend restaurants they visited and 87 percent of diners say they will likely return.

“Restaurant Weeks inspire diners to visit restaurants during times of the year that are typically slower, such as the first few months of the year and the summer season,” says Scott Jampol, vice president of consumer marketing at Open Table, which partners with more than 100 Restaurant Week events each year. “They serve as a great marketing tool for restaurants to find new customers.”

That’s precisely the message Bruce Hensley touts when he reminds restaurateurs that Restaurant Week is not about profit margins.

“This is marketing. This is an opportunity to target the coveted trial business, to get people to step outside of their typical economic or geographic footprint,” says Hensley, co-owner—along with wife Jill—of Hensley Fontana Public Relations/Marketing, which organizes semiannual January and June Restaurant Week events in Charlotte, North Carolina, each lasting ten days.

Tom Condron, chef/owner at The Liberty Gastropub in Charlotte, has participated every year since opening three years ago.

“We get several hundred more guests in those 10 days, and it’s a great way to make new friends,” says Condron. “We can be a little different and yet be true to what we are, and we can experiment with new items that some guests would not choose from a regular menu.”

Indeed, Charlotte’s most recent Restaurant Week, held in January, featured 112 restaurants across a six-county area and served 130,000 dinners for a $6 million impact. The July 2012 Restaurant Week was comparable, with 107 restaurants participating, 125,000 dinners served, and a $5.8 million economic impact. Since diners who did not order the $30 prix fixe menu weren’t counted in these totals, the impact was likely even larger.


Promoting the promotion

Some of the larger cities have added to the event. New York City has a soup truck that promotes its Restaurant Week and Chicago kicked off its 2013 Restaurant Week, held February 1–10, with a gala event the month prior. First Bites, held January 24, assembled around 50 chefs in a tasting session that teased diners into visiting during Restaurant Week. A record 286 restaurants participated in this—Chicago’s sixth—annual Restaurant Week, which included a $22 prix fixe lunch menu and choices of a $33 or $44 prix fixe dinner menu.

“We think anything that gets diners excited about participating in Restaurant Week is a good idea,” says Jampol.

However, Hensley has a different view on pre-event promotions: “We discuss it often and always arrive at the same conclusion—we’re just not in favor of doing it. The No. 1 reason is because we think it would be distracting for the restaurants to participate in another event right before Restaurant Week, and it could also dilute the concept of Restaurant Week. Also, there’s the challenge of deciding which restaurants would be included and which would be excluded—we just don’t want to go there. Now, if one of our media partners decides they want to host a pre-event promotion, we’d certainly consider approving it.”

Given Charlotte’s track record, there is no reason to think an additional promotion would make the event more successful and the restaurants that participate typically do so repeatedly. In fact, Hensley says—with only one exception—all the restaurants from the January Restaurant Week sign up for the July event as well. (The one that elects not to participate in July is located on Lake Norman, and that happens to be their prime season.)

Interestingly, one of the most critical elements to the success of a Restaurant Week is the performance of the event’s website,” Jampol says. “Ensuring the event is easy to find through search engines and that diners can simply peruse participating restaurants, search for available tables, and book reservations is essential.”