Restaurant Week has become popular in cities around the country, offering guests discounted multi-course prix fixe meals. This can be a great way to come together as a community and drive traffic to your restaurant during a slow period—The average business experiences a 23% boost in sales during Restaurant Week with tips coming in about 22% higher than average.

As customers, we love the excitement of Restaurant Week. It’s a chance to try new dishes, indulge in interesting cocktails and visit places we’ve never been. Despite the popularity, not everyone is a fan. Some business owners get overwhelmed dealing with huge crowds and end up putting out subpar dishes. Customers, disappointed by poor quality or skimpy meals, are left disappointed by their experience and leave poor reviews.

So is Restaurant Week worth it for businesses? We believe it all depends on your approach. These events are an opportunity to boost revenue during slower months, connect with new customers, impress VIP guests and be a part of the community. If you prepare and do it the right way, it’s good for everybody.

Here’s a short guide on how to do Restaurant Week right.

Connect with new customers

Many business owners skip Restaurant Week because they believe the crowds won’t come back after. The truth is you have the same opportunity to turn a new guest into a loyal customer any time they visit. The tried-and-true formula of delivering a great product and following up afterwards will work.

A good initial step is to have your staff ask if people are visiting for the first time. If so, try to collect their contact info on the spot. Comment cards are ok, but usually not that effective. You could also try a simple sign-up sheet. WiFi marketing is a nice option since Restaurant Week guests will be looking for free WiFi when posting pics and videos to social media. When customers log on to your network, they trade an email for access.

Once you have the contacts, follow up within a day or two with a welcome email. Include a quick ‘thank you’ for visiting and give them a reason to come back soon. This is your best chance to start transitioning a new customer into a loyal one with an email, so make sure you follow up.

Ensure your Restaurant Week menu represents your restaurant

If you’ve decided to take part in Restaurant Week, don’t mail it in. People are looking to have cool experiences at lower prices. But that doesn’t mean they’re all just a bunch of yokels looking to eat on the cheap.

There are plenty of legit foodies mixed in with the amateur eaters and they deserve to try the best of your menu. 78% of diners say they’re likely to try a restaurant based on a friend’s recommendation. Each restaurant week guest is a potential signal booster, so put your best chef-clog-clad foot forward.

If you’re known for fancy local ingredients, leave them in. Obviously, you should keep food costs down where you can, but not at the expense of promoting what makes your menu special. If you’re worried about volume, consider offering shared plate versions of your best dishes. It’s better to offer smaller bites of great food than larger portions of mediocre food.

Don’t forget to offer vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options as well. This is often overlooked but providing an alternative to those with special dietary needs will ensure they’ll come back again and expand your customer base.

Staff up for big crowds

Restaurant Week can get insanely busy. If word gets out that you’re serving a can’t-miss dish, you can be in the weeds for days (hopefully a good thing). Make sure your team knows what to expect. If they have to work longer hours, don’t spring the news on them at the last minute. Get your A-team in the kitchen and make sure your best servers are on the floor for the busiest shifts.

Keep a close eye on your reservations. When you’re expecting crowds, it’s better to start shifts with too many people rather than not enough. If things are mellow, you can almost always find someone willing to bounce early.

Make sure your servers know the menu. New guests will have a lot of questions and an articulate server can guide them to eats they’ll enjoy.

Offer exciting dining options

Restaurant week guests aren’t just there to get fed, they want something special. You can make even more money by offering unique add-ons. For example, if you’re cooking a killer burger, toppings like farm-fresh eggs, artisan bacon and local cheeses can bump ticket prices up.

Make sure your servers know the menu and any special offers well, too. New guests will have a lot of questions and an knowledgeable server can guide them to eats they’ll enjoy. Servers should try to upsell cocktails, wine and beer. It can be fun to run contests with your crew. For example, whoever sells the most of a certain appetizer gets a gift card.

It’s also a good time to try out some experimental recipes. You don’t want to change everything up, but a couple bold dishes thrown in the mix can provide excitement for guests and staff. If something is really well received and catches some buzz, consider featuring it on your main menu.

Make your regulars feel like VIPs

When you spot regulars, make sure you give them a little something extra. If you can, give your diehards good seats. Pick up a round of drinks. If they’re fighting the crowds on restaurant week to come see you, it means they’re big fans. These loyal customers can be worth 10x as much as first time customers.

Attentive hosts and servers will be able to spot some of your regulars, but you don’t have to rely on their memories all the time. You can invite frequent visitors to come out via email, locking down reservations beforehand. Make a note in your reservations that these folks should get special treatment.

Don’t forget to have fun

Think about restaurant week as an opportunity to show off. Feature your best dishes. Staff your best crew. This is a perfect event to bring in people who are excited about food. Show them you’re excited, too. 80% of diners who enjoy a meal say they plan to return to places they tried during restaurant week. If they have a good experience, they will want to return.

Cities & Dates

New York, January 21 – February 8

San Francisco, January 23-31

Los Angeles, January 11-25

Chicago, January 25 – February 7

Washington, DC, January 14-20

Pittsburgh, January 14-20

Portland, March 1-31


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