What's the real deal with Restaurant Week?

With an influx of reporters and delegations at the 1992 Democratic Convention in New York, local restaurants teamed up, and "Restaurant Week" as we know it was born. In the two-plus decades since, the events have spread across the country, and nearly every town on the map seems to have at least one -- if not two or three -- dedicated restaurant weeks each year. Still, the concept has come under fire recently, with restauranteurs and customers alike questioning the value of the "deals" each is supposed to benefit from.

So, what are the pros and cons of a week dedicated to restaurant deals across town? Here's a breakdown of some of the most important considerations for your business:

alt Pros

Bringing in New Customers and Exposure

The number one pitch Restaurant Week supporters highlight when they talk about their events is that the week is a tool for restaurant owners to attract new clientele and exposure. Lists and links for participating locations abound online, and Newspapers usually do several write-ups on the food and deals. Social media goes into overdrive too, with . Often restaurant week hashtags and twitter profiles that can boost your web presence, and, ostensibly, get new regulars in the door.

Benefiting a good cause

Some Restaurant Weeks are set up to benefit a specific cause, usually with a percentage of proceeds donated. Most recently, Houston Resturant Week raised more than 1.9 million dollars for the Houston Food Bank. To put that in perspective, that donation will serve more than 5.7 million meals to Houston’s poor and hungry. Not bad for one week of discounts...



Fees to participate

Most city tourist groups charge you to participate in their restaurant week. The price range is between $300 and $600 depending on the city, and time of the year the restaurant week occurs. This wouldn’t be a big deal if you weren’t already offering discounted dishes, but after charging to participate there's often a minimum discount, as in the case of New York's Restaurant Week, which asks that dishes be discounted by 30-50%.

Tipping on the discount

A common complaint whether your restaurant is in the midst of a Groupon campaign or a restaurant week is that customers don't realize they still need to tip on the whole bill. That lack of math skills comes out of your employees' wallets, and they don't like it when you mess with their wallets...

Customers don't see the value

There has been a wave of discontent online from restaurant-goers who are griping that restaurant week "discounts" actually don't add up to much. They go through line by line and add up the individual items lumped into sale-priced prix fixe menus, and feel like it's a case of 2 for $1, 4 for $2. More quantity, no deal. You may offer a great discount, but there's room for misunderstanding here, and restaurant's could find themselves on the wrong end of an online review if they're not careful.

So, there you have it. Like everything in life (except ice cream), Restaurant Weeks have their pros and cons. For a lot of places, the community pressure and competition for diners makes the decision to participate easy, but ultimately you have to decide what works best for your restaurant. We hope this list helps a little... Good luck!