Table Talk: Post-mortem on Restaurant Week

The summer event worked for most, bringing in new business

August 31, 2010|By Richard Gorelick, Special to The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore Restaurant Week is over. Or, mostly it is. At least half of the more than 100 participating restaurants extended the fixed-price menu promotion beyond the original Aug. 22 conclusion through this past Sunday, and at least one restaurant is at it still — the Prime Rib is continuing its promotion through this Saturday.

According to Nancy Hinds, Visit Baltimore's director of public affairs, anecdotal reports from restaurant owners were especially positive about this summer's promotion period, a span of unusually mild weather. Precise numbers will be supplied soon by Open Table, the Web-based service that manages reservations for the promotion, but early reports indicated that overall reservations for this year were up about 3 percent from last year's debut summer promotion. (The winter version of Restaurant Week is going into its seventh year.)

The promotion is designed not only to stimulate business during a typically slow summer period but also to introduce restaurants and diners to each other. Individual restaurants reported success with both goals. Kali's Court in Fells Point saw sales records broken, and Morton's credits Restaurant Week with bringing in many people who don't normally dine at the Inner Harbor steakhouse. Sascha Wolhander of Sascha's 527 sums it up simply: "We loved it."

A less cheerful report came from one of the handful of pub-style restaurants that have remained with the promotion. And even here, the disgruntlement sounded more like frustration about not fitting so well into Restaurant Week, especially with the $35 fixed-price dinner. "We do have good sales, but we never see these people again," said one manager, who asked not to be identified, "and we actually end up losing money."

Apparently, Baltimore Restaurant Week, which is organized by Visit Baltimore and the Downtown Partnership, wasn't unduly affected by the debut edition of Baltimore County Restaurant Week, which was held during the same time period, with participating restaurants offering the same $35 fixed-price menus

The organizer of the county's promotion was Brian Boston, executive chef at the Milton Inn, who says he was "shocked" at how successful the first-time effort was. "We were doing December-level business during what's usually our second-slowest month of the year," Boston said, adding that the other participating restaurants reported similarly encouraging results.

Boston pointed out that among the winners in a successful promotion like this one are the wait-staff of restaurants, who are usually competing for shifts in mid-August. Boston has already begun planning for the first wintertime edition of Baltimore County's restaurant week, for sometime in January.

Responding to the observation that Baltimore County Restaurant Week appeared only to reach the county's northern parts, Boston promises more inclusiveness next time. "Our arms are completely open," he said."We did this all by ourselves, and we got in touch with as many restaurants as we could."

Also notably absent from the debut county edition was county government, which ultimately took no part in sponsoring, organizing, or promoting a restaurant week. Boston says he approached the county for support but was turned down. In the immediate aftermath of the debut edition's success, Boston says he approached the county again for help with the first winter edition but again could not arrive at an agreement. Boston says he was asked to defer the declined winter promotion from January until March, when a new county executive will be in place.

"We served approximately 60,000 meals during Restaurant Week. I'm very disappointed in the county," says Boston, who acknowledges he was unwilling to make this or other changes suggested by the county.

Lunchtime changes Labor Day means a change of habits. Feast @ Four East Madison in Mount Vernon said goodbye to summertime lunch in the garden , but starting on Sept. 8 will expand its Wednesday light-fare only menu to a "hybrid of the original dinner menu and the light menu of bistro fare like burgers and duck fat fries." Also new for Wednesdays — a three-course fixed-price dinner ($32) with salad, entree and dessert. The address is 4 E. Madison St.; call 410-605-2020.

No Kasper: Columnist Rob Kasper is on assignment.

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