Restaurant Week is a New York institution of an event that happens for loosely defined lengths of a few weeks every winter and summer. The event started in 1992 and has since then expanded in participation by both consumers and restaurants alike. Today, Restaurant Week is seen as a signature aspect of the New York restaurant industry. New Yorkers see it as a time for getting the dining experiences we otherwise couldn’t afford, and restaurants see it as an opportunity to both fill seats during the slow months and hopefully gain some new loyal customers.
The concept of Restaurant Week is fairly simple. Participating restaurants design a three course prix fixe menu priced at $25 for lunch and $38 for dinner, and offer it for the duration of Restaurant Week. Today, participating restaurants can all be found listed on nycgo.com as well as OpenTable. No coupons or any special codes required. You just sit down at a participating restaurant during the event you’ll be presented with the restaurant’s Restaurant Week Menu. Of course, you can also order from the regular menu at regular prices during this event, and ignore that Restaurant Week is even happening.
The first Restaurant Week was created in 1992 by Tim Zagat and Joe Baum. All it was at first was a four day event designed to be a gesture of good will from the New York restaurant industry as it hosts the 15,000 reporters who would be coming in from around the country to cover the Democratic National Convention. From there the concept expanded. Each year, more restaurants participated in Restaurant Week, and the event grew in length from 4 days, to one week, to now nearly a month at a time. This year, the 2017 Summer Restaurant Week goes officially from Mondays to Fridays between today and August 18th, with a number of restaurants independently offering deals through Labor Day.
Restaurant Week started in New York City, but has for the last decade caught on to becoming a mainstream genre of the restaurant industry all over the country. Cities like Washington DC, Boston, and even small towns like North Hampton have learned to copy New York and organize Restaurant Weeks for their own city’s restaurant industry. Each city organizes their own thing, and like many events that turn into institutions, none are associated with the original nor each other.
Since its foundings on a simple idea of hospitality for a special occasion, the New York City Restaurant Week has spread to become a national phenomenon. What it created for the restaurant industry is a medium through which restaurants can market themselves on value. Without restaurant week, a restaurant offering special promotions at a tenth of their normal prices (at places like Jean George by the way, that fraction is not an exaggeration) may be seen as desperate and/or going out of business. Restaurant Week negates that stigma. By creating a citywide event where all participating restaurants offer identical deals, Restaurant Week spins the value proposition to that of an exercise in community building.
Restaurateurs know they’ll be in good company, and may even be seen by New Yorkers as high brow for not participating. In the meantime, customers get a chance to try a place we’d otherwise likely not go. On the short term, it’s a great way for restaurants to fill seats in the slow months (Restaurant Week happens in what are generally really slow months, the weeks around January/February and those around July/August). On the long term, it’s a great opportunity for a restaurant to make a first impression to guests they would otherwise never be able to reach. The Restaurant Week event serves to both define and bring together the local community around food — restaurants and customers — and create great value for both sides.
See you at the next exploration!