Denver Restaurant Week: Is It Worth It?

The gloves come off. (Not really. Wear your gloves. And masks.)

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It's a question for the ages. / Roman Samborskyi @ 123RF.com

On September 30, Visit Denver announced a fall Denver Restaurant Week scheduled for November 13 through November 22. While the surprise announcement wasn’t as impactful as other proclamations (from, say, March) that hit everyone like a punch to the gut, it did make us wonder: Is Restaurant Week worth it?

Josh Wolkon (owner, Steuben’s and Ace Eat Serve) and Andy Ganick (owner, The Pig & the Sprout) were kind enough to give us their thoughts. If, after reading what they both have to say, you decide you want to participate, sign up at Visit Denver by Thursday, October 22.

Josh Wolkon: “The Reality Is Restaurant Week Has Changed.”

Since its inception I have always felt that Restaurant Week is one of the most affordable marketing opportunities, with measurable results, and at a very low cost. We have been participating in the event for 16 years.

Restaurant Week is an opportunity to attract first time guests, which is the hardest part of restaurant marketing. The hope is to turn these guests into regulars, even if it’s just yearly for the Restaurant Week experience.  

In the early years, I believe the success of Restaurant Week turned some restaurants off, as it was a grind to be doing weekend numbers all week long. It also proved to be a bit boring and repetitive to be serving the same menu items repeatedly. We countered these challenges by offering many staff perks like massages, BBQ cook-off competitions, and sales challenges. Plus, [we] gave the chefs the opportunity to expand Restaurant Week offerings and offer our entire regular menu to cater to guests who were not necessarily visiting for the Restaurant Week menu.

We have been offering the same exact Restaurant Week menu at Steuben’s every year, which is a discounted menu of clam chowder or house salad, a lobster roll, and butterscotch pudding.  All of these items are on our existing menu, which makes execution very easy. We work with our supplier on pricing to help us offer the Restaurant Week discounted price.  

We have always tried to give the guest an incentive for a return visit. We always offer add-ons of wine, cocktails, or small bites to increase average check.

We have embraced the fact that guests are often looking for a deal and try to exceed expectations versus offering a smaller portion size or cheaper product that is not up to our standards. Ultimately, we want guests to have the sense of a daily experience at our restaurants.

Any marketing at this moment that might encourage guests to dine in or take out is a positive thing.

At Ace Eat Serve, chef Thach has used Restaurant Week as a great opportunity to test out new menu items. We create menus that work for the kitchen and [that] we know the guest will appreciate. In general, the increase in volume makes up for the increase in our costs, and historically, Restaurant Week has been one of our most profitable times of the year.

The reality is that Restaurant Week has changed, mostly due to the number of restaurants that participate. For most restaurants it’s not the constant busy grind. Sales increase nicely, but not to a crazy level. Plenty of diners continue to order off the regular menu.  

Any marketing at this moment that might encourage guests to dine in or take out is a positive thing, and this year there is no cost to participate. Restaurants can choose takeout, dine in, delivery, or some combination. You can always create a [Restaurant Week] menu off your regular menu using some of your better-costed items, or work with your purveyors to lock in a better price at quantity.

At Secret Sauce, we are here for the community. In this time of social interaction loss, of too much cooking and cleaning at home, and of constant anxiety and unknown, restaurants can serve as a break from all the noise. We need the support of the community, our friends, and our neighbors. There are still plenty of people who have not yet ventured to dine out [who can] be reminded of what it feels like to connect with each other and be served. Perhaps they have not heard live music in seven months (come to the Ace patio on Saturdays). 

Restaurants are part of our culture and the fabric of our community.  Whatever we can do to remind guests and possibly incentivize them to support local restaurants is a positive. Once inside, diners will realize how safely we are operating. Of course, takeout remains an easy option. Restaurant Week is an easy promotion to participate in. Every diner that comes into Ace or Steuben’s and has a memorable dining experience will most likely tell their network. This keeps the percentage of diners potentially growing and now, more than ever, we all need butts in seats.  

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