Note: Here’s a draft of a story that is scheduled to be published in Sunday’s Dayton Daily News.
Restaurant Week slipped in popularity this winter, with restaurants serving about 27 percent fewer meals than they did last summer, and restaurant owners and the Miami Valley Restaurant Association have responded by adopting a new three-tier pricing structure for the upcoming summer promotion that will raise prices for some diners, and drop them for others.
The MVRA surveyed restaurant owners on whether they wanted to stay at the $25.11 price point established for the winter 2011 promotion — a $5 increase from all previous Restaurant Weeks, which started at $20.04 in 2004 and rose only a penny a year until this year — or switch to a three-tier system in which restaurants could choose $20.11, $25.11 or $30.11 prices. The strong majority of those responding to the email survey chose the three-tier option, and that’s the pricing structure that will be in place when Summer Restaurant Week kicks off in the last week of July, said Shanon Morgan, the restaurant association’s president.
Morgan said she and members of the association’s executive board want to focus on the promotion’s charitable aspect. During Restaurant Week, diners can order a three-course meal at participating restaurants at the chosen price, with each restaurant donating $1 from each special meal sold to locally based charities. Since the promotion started in 2004, restaurants have donated $149,658 to local charities via Restaurant Week.
The promotion has grown steadily since its inception seven years ago, attracting increasing numbers of participating restaurants and diners each year. In winter 2010, 20,706 dinners were sold during a promotion that was extended by one week to two weeks because of a winter storm. In the summer of 2010, 19,890 dinners were sold in one week.
After the restaurant association’s executive board, under pressure from some of its association members, hiked the price by $5.01 rather than by a penny for the winter 2011 event, most restaurants reported a drop in sales. Morgan said although she doesn’t yet have final numbers, she expects the total meals sold to reach just over 14,000 — about 30 percent less than the two-week special the previous year, and a 27 percent drop from summer.
Morgan said cold weather during the last week of January and the poor economy contributed to the decline, but added, “The price increase did put off some people.” She said the increase “was something that had to be done.” There was no sentiment among the MVRA’s board members to revert back to the single $20.11 price point, she said.
“We looked at a lot of Restaurant Weeks around the country that had similar demographics, and we thought this (three-tiered option) would be the best fit,” Morgan said. “I don’t think we’re at all out of line.”
A restaurant week promotion by the Greater Cincinnati Independent Restaurants offers three-course meals at a single price point of $26.11. A Columbus restaurant week has a five-tier pricing structure ranging from $15 to $35. In Toledo, an inaugural restaurant week promotion offers three tiers of pricing: $10, $20 and $30. There are still a handful of cities — including Schenectady, N.Y. and the Santa Ynez Valley in California — that serve three-course meals for $20.11 during a restaurant week promotion.
Support among Dayton-area restaurant owners for a three-tier structure is not unanimous. Dominique Fortin, owner of C’est Tout restaurant in Oakwood, said he believes the new pricing structure “will be way too confusing for people.” Fortin said he intends to choose the least expensive price point of $20.11, in part because he noticed a drop in overall interest this winter and also sold less wine than during previous Restaurant Weeks.
Keith Taylor, owner of Savona restaurant in Centerville, said he had already begun offering tiered price choices to his Restaurant Week diners, at $20.11 and $25.11, “but I think going as high as $30 is too much. Everyone will be looking for the restaurants that offer the $20.11 menu, not the $30.11.” Taylor said the new system will create confusion, “and confusion is the reason why many restaurants had a lower turnout for the winter restaurant week. People have hectic lives and like things to be simple when it comes to going out to eat.”
Morgan said the MVRA is revamping its web site and will clearly identify restaurants in each price tier, and she said she expects restaurants to help get the word out about the new cost structure.
Bill Castro, co-owner of El Meson restaurant in West Carrollton, said he supports the concept of offering diners different price points. Elizabeth Wiley, owner of Meadowlark restaurant in Washington Twp., said “I don’t really know what the best approach is now that raising the price kind of backfired.” But she will consider offering a $20.11 meal with an option of adding a fourth course for a $5 supplement.
“I’m also planning to bring the charity aspect of Restaurant Week more to the forefront when we do the event this summer,” Wiley said. “I want customers to feel good about giving to local organizations as well as getting a great deal.”Tweet