Restaurant Week Signals Big Business for Independent Operators

Sweet Corn Agnolotti with Truffles at Mélisse.
Sweet Corn Agnolotti with Truffles at Mélisse. Mélisse

With thousands of restaurants nationally in the midst of Restaurant Week or preparing for the summer tradition, a study released this month highlights the event’s value for operators, chefs, and staffs.

CAKE, a Redwood City, California-based company that provides technology solutions for restaurants, found that independent clients participating in Restaurant Week experience a 23 percent sales increase during the period vs. the following week.

Restaurant clients that did not participate recorded only a 4 percent increase.

“Revenues are definitely higher during Restaurant Week, with roughly one-quarter of that from people spending more than the following week’s average check,” says Mani Kulasooriya, CAKE’s chief executive.

Despite discounts often offered during Restaurant Week, the average ticket of participating restaurants is $43.35, 3.6 percent higher than a week after the event ends.

Traffic also grows, with 18 percent more transactions for those dining houses engaging in Restaurant Week, compared with a 7 percent increase for others. Three-quarters of the guests at participating restaurants during the week are not regular visitors.

And it isn’t just the owners that get a boost: Servers’ tips jump 22 percent vs. a 4 percent decline at non-participating eateries.

“The data points to Restaurant Week being very positive,” Kulasooriya adds.

In Charlotte, North Carolina, more than 130 restaurants are participating in Queen’s Feast Friday through next Sunday, offering three courses for $30 or $35 per person. One is Heirloom, an OpenTable Top 100 Restaurant in America for Foodies.

Clark Barlowe, owner-chef of the farm-to-fork favorite, is a big fan of the Queen City’s event, because local diners have embraced the event far more than other cities where he’s worked. “Turnout nearly doubles every day” compared to non-event weeks, he says.

Unlike Heirloom’s regular menu, which changes daily depending on what’s available from North Carolina farms, the Restaurant Week menu will be the continuous. “That means if we have green beans on the menu, we need 10 days of green beans,” he adds.

Indeed, petite green beans are part of a second course that also features Harmony Ridge Berkshire pork steak, chef-foraged chanterelle crust, and local sweet corn and buttermilk. There are three choices for each of the first two courses and two for dessert.

Los Angeles’ Restaurant Week, DineLA, is a two-week event that began Monday. Sponsored by the city’s tourism and convention board, the festival includes variously priced lunches and dinners at more than 300 independent and chain restaurants.

At highly acclaimed French-American restaurant Mélisse in Santa Monica, Chef/Owner Josiah Citrin will feature a five-course dinner for $95, which is a higher price point than many of the other participating eateries but still about 40 percent less than normal.

Citrin embraces the event, which drives more traffic to the restaurant, although revenue is unchanged. “It attracts people who might not normally come, and if they have a great experience, they tell their friends,” he says. “Plus, it helps promote the city.”

Even before the advent of Restaurant Week, he had a two-week event, Dine Mélisse, with a fixed-price menu at a special price.

This year, Mélisse features two choices for each of the middle courses, and one apiece for the first and last. Main course offerings are a flat iron steak with roasted cauliflower charred leeks, and carrots, or Wolfe Ranch quail with smoked tomatoes, braised shelling beans, and porcini mushrooms. One course can be sweet corn agnolotti with Australian Perigord truffles for an extra $75.

Kulasooriya says the Restaurant Week study was the result of looking at the data CAKE compiles. “The way big data works is not necessarily looking at a particular question you want answered,” he notes. “Instead, there are patterns that can be seen.”

CAKE, a Sysco company, integrates numerous front and back of the house restaurant technical operations, notably point-of-sale and guest management. This includes menu pricing, guest preference tracking, reservations, inventory, loyalty programs, and payroll.

By Barney Wolf

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