Capitalizing on the snail’s pace of a Sunday evening, some chefs promote bargain prix fixe menus.
Balsan, the casual sibling to RIA inside The Elysian Hotel in Chicago, serves a four-course meal for $29 per person on Sunday nights. Since it was first offered in September 2010 business has picked up dramatically.
“It’s one of our busiest nights and the one where we have the most repeat and loyal customers,” says executive chef Danny Grant. “You’re meant to take your time, unwind and feel comfortable—just the way a Sunday should be.
“The beautiful thing about Sunday Supper is that we have leftover product from RIA like wild Brittany turbot, truffles and some really high-end ingredients that are best used before the restaurant opens again on Tuesday.”
Similarly, at Aureole in New York City, cost-conscious diners who reserve a table on Sunday nights pay just $49 for a three-course dinner that’s normally $89. Sunday Suppers debuted in May.
“I always think of it as New Yorkers coming back from a weekend away and want something good to eat but don’t want to spend a lot of time,” says chef/owner Charlie Palmer.
“We’re really starting to see the fruits of our effort. People don’t necessarily think of Aureole as a Sunday night restaurant. We had a group that came from the New York Giants game a few weeks ago. I’ve seen parents come in with teens in sweatshirts on Sunday.”
Marketing Sunday Suppers as casual is key to their success—so they are not confused with the elegant nature of Friday or Saturday dinners. This approach can also backfire, however, and compromise a restaurant’s brand.
“The worst thing you can do is to run discount-driven programs,” says Aaron Allen, a global restaurant consultant. “When you lower your prices like that, you can never go back.”
Palmer, Allen says, “is basically taking a page out of Restaurant Week. It seems like he’s using the trend in a bad way. It’s a little frustrating to see him succumb to that. There still is the consumer out there who’s willing to spend.”
Yet the nostalgic nature to Sunday night dinners draws people in too. “Sunday, to me growing up, was a big Italian-family gathering. It just got me thinking about how I could package this,” says Rob Zack, executive chef at Eight K Restaurant inside Viceroy Snowmass in Colorado. He debuted a four-course Sunday Supper menu ($39 per person) in June that, like other nights, follows a local foods mantra. But the difference is that it’s served family-style.
“It’s always simple, or elevated, comfort food” such as duck fritters, pork belly in a crispy crepe, and banana-cream pie, Zack says. Locals quickly fell in love with Sunday Supper and many are now repeat customers, inspiring him to roll out an affordable prix fixe menu for Thanksgiving Day.
For some restaurants, Sunday Suppers have always been a part of the menu concept. Since opening in 1998, Lucques in Los Angeles has offered a four-course menu on Sunday evenings.
Costing just $49 per person, it is largely market-driven; a recent course was pan-seared market fish with spinach purée, crème fraîche and vegetables in bagna cauda.
“It’s almost a ritual for many of our guests and we communicate our weekly menu just a few days before,” says sommelier and co-owner Caroline Styne.
“Suzanne [Goin, co-owner and chef] said it reminded her of childhood feasts and informal meals she enjoyed in France, which is the inspiration of Lucques.”
By Kristine Hansen