What Is Restaurant Week?

Definition & Examples of Restaurant Week Promotions

Waiter pouring wine for guests at a restaurant

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Restaurant week is a period of specials and promotions for restaurants that began in New York City in 1992 and now takes place all over the country. It typically occurs in the winter or spring during the slow season for restaurants.

Established to help boost business, restaurant week has grown in popularity since its inception. It offers many benefits for restaurant owners and can help increase sales during otherwise slow periods. Let's look at how it started and how you can participate in your own restaurant.

What Is Restaurant Week?

Restaurant week is a clever promotional strategy originally meant to spark business for restaurants in New York City during the slow time of year. The first restaurant week was thought up by Tim Zagat and Joe Baum. Tim Zagat is the founder of Zagat Survey, which covers restaurant guides in cities all over the world. The late Joe Baum was a top restaurateur, creating such famous dining rooms as Windows on the World and the Rainbow Room.

The pair planned the first restaurant week to coincide with the Democratic Convention. The week-long event was such a success it has grown to encompass four weeks in New York City, instead of one week. The concept has also spread across the country to cities and states, all of which participate with their own version and schedule.

Many large cities now offer multiple restaurant weeks each year, and they often extend for several weeks or even a month at a time.

How Restaurant Week Works

Restaurant week varies from place to place. The general concept is that local restaurants partner with local tourist organizations or chambers of commerce to promote a week of lunch and dinner specials. Other partners may include local businesses, banks, and food vendors.

Restaurants usually offer reduced prices for a prix fixe menu, the idea being that what they lose in check averages they gain in sales volume. Many restaurants report significant sales boosts during restaurant week. Much of this business comes from new customers, and you have a chance to show them the great menu and experience your restaurant has to offer.

Other Benefits of Restaurant Week

Restaurants aren’t the only businesses to benefit from restaurant week. It helps increase tourism, thereby boosting businesses for hotels, stores, and other local businesses.

Cities and states can use restaurant week as a platform to showcase their area and build their culinary reputation. In New York City, where there are plenty of restaurants that don’t need promotion, many still join in restaurant week, recognizing the common good it offers.

Create Your Own Restaurant Week

If your area doesn’t have an established restaurant week, here are some tips for getting one in place:

  • Partner up: Join with other restaurants, local businesses, and organizations such as the chamber of commerce.
  • Plan for a slow time during the year: This is a chance to boost business when sales are lagging and gain exposure to new customers.
  • Be consistent: All the participating restaurants should follow the same guidelines concerning set prices (now is not the time to undersell your competition) and similar menus (two-course, three-course, and so on). Pricing for restaurant week needs to accommodate both low- and high-end restaurants.
  • Offer your best food: The idea behind restaurant week is to showcase your restaurant’s food to customers who may not eat there regularly. Offer a house favorite or a chef specialty, not just your cheapest menu options.

Restaurant week is a great promotional opportunity that can kick-start a slow time of year. It's a collaborative effort between restaurants and it's important that everyone participating agree on timing, price points, and marketing. Areas that host a restaurant week have the potential to grow it into a wide-scale event that will have a ripple effect beyond the restaurant industry. 

Key Takeaways

  • Restaurant week is a major promotional period for restaurants that takes place in cities all over the U.S. and often extends longer than a week.
  • Restaurants often partner together and with other local businesses and organizations to promote business for their city.
  • It often happens in the winter or spring, during the slow season, but some large cities host multiple restaurant weeks each year.