It's that time again, when budget shoppers can eat at pricey restaurants like Aureole or the Lambs Club: Restaurant Week.
NYC Restaurant Week, which started in 1992, is a three-week event where restaurants across the city offer a three-course meal from a fixed menu. Lunch costs $25 and dinner costs $38.
This summer’s event lasts from July 20 to August 14.
With well-known high-end restaurants like Fig & Olive and Barbetta participating, it’s hard to imagine how these expensive restaurants make a profit. The benefit is that the restaurants attract new customers, according to David Just, Director of Cornell University’s Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management.
“If you’re a higher-end restaurant, it’s your opportunity to go after the customers that are out of your margin,” said Just. “These are the ones who normally wouldn’t be attracted because of the price. Once they get there and they have that one dish they love, they might be coming back.”
This rings true for many restaurants’ experience.
“Our margins are much smaller during times like this, but our volume goes up so it becomes a profitable experience,” said Tracy Nieporent, Director of Marketing and Partner at The Myriad Restaurant Group, which is in charge of such Restaurant Week favorites like Nobu and Tribeca Grill. “You always want to build a relationship with a guest, give them a chance to experience your ambience. If we do a good job, they’ll want to come back.”
With over 300 restaurants participating in Restaurant Week, the event continues to grow while advertising a bargain deal for food aficionados.
Since its launch, the NYC Restaurant Week price point for lunch, for example, has only increased about five dollars, from almost $20 to $25. However, the average cost of a meal in NYC has increased during that time from $17.94 to $48.56, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
No matter what your choice, you’re saving some bank.
However, sometimes restaurants have special options on their Restaurant Week-only menus. These options may never appear on the regular menu, leading to questions as to whether they’re the restaurant’s way of cutting costs.
“It makes sense that you would alter a menu to adjust size, but it’s a bad idea to use less quality dishes; it’s advertising,” said Just. “If any changes were made to impact quality they would be very marginal.”
Nieporent said he believes Restaurant Week meals still maintain the highest standards.
“All things on the menu are very representative of the restaurant,” he said. “We’ll serve you food that’s special; not like it’s something that’s pedestrian.”
No need to worry, New York: You won’t be served chicken nuggets on a gold plate.
The way you win Restaurant Week is by playing to your niches, according to Just. These few weeks provide an opportunity to test out a restaurant you’ve always wanted to try or experiment with unique fusion cuisine without the risk of a high price tag.
Check out All’onda if Japanese-Venetian food interests you, but you’ve always been a little intimidated by the risk and the price point.
To avoid the usual tasting menu price of $70, try the ever popular Acme for a weekday dinner.
Ultimately, the best value may not actually be in the restaurants with the biggest spaces.
“The greatest value you’ll find is going to be the smaller boutique restaurants that don’t take in the same amount of money because they play to a smaller audience,” said Just. “Some of those, you’ll see a much larger price drop in trying to participate in Restaurant Week.”
For Nieporent, whichever restaurant you pick, you’ll be participating in an enjoyable, memorable tradition.
“Not everyone can go to the Hamptons and be away for the summer but the fact is there’s a great tradition here and great festivity,” said Nieporent. “Everyone wants the same thing: to be catered to and to sit in a comfortable chair."