Each January, thousands of DMV self-proclaimed foodies flock to DC’s best restaurants for DC Restaurant week…or do they?

Like clockwork, every January thousands trudge into their local grocery stores, bodegas or corner newsstands to nab Washingtonian’s “100 Very Best Restaurants” issue. Conveniently, every year the issue arrives just before DC Restaurant Week.

DC Restaurant week was engineered to help local restaurants fill up in notoriously slow months like January and August. This year, for either $22.16 (lunch) or $35.16 (dinner) Washingtonians can get a three course meal at the elusive 4-star restaurants they have dying to try. Hundreds of DC’s top restaurants list their establishments in hopes of packing the house during the slowest months out of the year, creating restaurant week menus in hopes of gaining new, frequent guests to fill theirs seats.
But there’s a flaw in this concept:
Out of the top 20 “Best Restaurants” of 2016, 17 of them do NOT participate in restaurant week!
Why? First explanation: They don’t have to. These restaurants are consistently booked throughout the year. Second, they must design a menu that will cost them money.
When preparing for Restaurant Week, restaurants offering a menu without their normal dishes are forced to purchase additional products they would not normally carry. Each restaurant also has their full menu available to diners not participating in the restaurant week deal. This means double the product, double the chance you take that foods will spoil and ending up in the trash, making this often a loss of profit for restaurants.
Restaurant week is marketed to give people a taste of a restaurant they probably wouldn’t be able to afford normally. These high-end restaurants, however, must create and deliver a menu that showcases their cuisine but without losing money. For that reason, many of the top restaurants participating this year did not offer their signature dishes, instead choosing to offer limited options, modified or inferior versions of their menu.
Restaurants like DBGB, who are known for their duck, sausages and French inspired fried chicken did not offer any of these signature dishes on their Restaurant Week menu. Instead, choosing to add only one dish off their regular menu – The Yankee burger. Unlike DGBG, Mintwood Place and Boss Shepard’s chose to highlight many of their full time offerings to give the diner the full restaurant experience. The latter restaurants capture what restaurant week diners are looking for.
So how do restaurants who participate in DC Restaurant Week profit from the promotion?
Marketing. Restaurants should capitalize on the information they receive about their new diners through Opentable. This allows restaurants to start relationships with these potential regular customers. Sending a thank you email for dining with them, adding them to emails or newsletters about happenings and upcoming in-house promotions are all great ways to re-book these notorious one-time guests. (Of course, restaurants need to encourage guests to opt-in to these communications first!)
Another way to increase the potential for repeat business is to include a short questionnaire about the guest’s experience with the check. This immediate market research allows the establishment to get real time feedback about customers’ dining experiences. This allows the restaurant to foster a personal relationship with the diner following their visit via a private email from the restaurant thanking them for their feedback and inviting them back to return soon. This drives customer loyalty. Loyalty and service are the two main ingredients in continuing to fill seats. By adding this personal touch, the restaurant can greet the guest by name upon their next visit, suggest a new dish based on their previous meal or recommend a great new beverage based on their preferences. Personal service is a prime way to drive guests to choose an establishment over and over again, turning a one-time guest into a lifetime follower.
This August when restaurant week rolls around again, just say no! Do not waste the time and money on a great restaurant with a mediocre menu. Do yourself a favor and save your money and visit these restaurants throughout the year and get the full menu and the full dining experience you wouldn’t get during restaurant week. Remember, the top restaurants in DC don’t participate in restaurant week, so neither should you!

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