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Marissa Oberlander/MEDILL

Diners enjoy The Purple Pig's Mediterranean-themed menu during Chicago Restaurant Week.


Chicago restaurant week proves community promotion is best

by Marissa Oberlander
Feb 24, 2011


Diners participate in Chicago restaurant week for the affordable, fixed-price menus at more than 200 local restaurants. Restaurants participate because community promotion affords greater marketing and revenue-generating opportunities than deals such as Groupon or Restaurant.com. 
 
The Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau sponsors the event. Participating restaurants offer multi-course, prix fixe lunches for $22 and dinners for $33 and $44, excluding drinks, tax and tip.  Last year, the promotion had 177 participating restaurants and 335,000 diners, and it generated $11.6 million in revenue. 
 
According to data collected by OpenTable Inc., an online restaurant reservation service, nearly two-thirds of diners who participated in restaurant weeks nationwide said they were likely to return to the eatery they visited, and more than 70 percent would recommend the restaurant to others.
 
The promotion delivers real value to restaurants in the form of increased customer volume during a slow time of year. Also, new diners share their experience with friends, which is free word-of-mouth marketing, said Scott Jampol, director of consumer marketing at OpenTable, in an email. 
 
Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Technomic Inc., a food industry research and consulting firm, said restaurant weeks are long-term investments, not short-term cash boosts. 
 
“Trial use will likely lead to repeat business, assuming the restaurant executes well,” said Tristano. “Groupon is more focused on very value-seeking customers who are looking for a deal, not a new restaurant they can frequent.” 
 
Amy Larrick, director of marketing at Phil Stefani Signature Restaurants, says restaurant week is an opportunity “to provide an affordable snapshot of what you think you do best” and attract new diners. 
 
The restaurant group has participated in the promotion since the beginning through its locations like Riva, Tuscany and 437 N. Rush, and Larrick has noticed greater public response and community involvement each year. She said extended marketing throughout the week is more valuable than Groupon’s “one-shot deal” structure and participating Phil Stefani restaurants are going to continue the promotion through March.
 
Restaurant week can also be a great way to ease new diners into an eclectic menu, said Katie Klotzberger, manager of foodie-haven The Purple Pig. Once new customers stop gaping at the unusual pork dishes featured on the menu, they realize that the restaurant has relatively inexpensive prices, especially for Michigan Avenue, and accessible offerings, she said.
 
Klotzberger said the restaurant has had a good week in terms of sales and customer volume. The Purple Pig has been filled for lunch each day of restaurant week, and volume has increased 35 to 40 percent. She said the promotion is especially worthwhile because there is no cost apart from the yearly membership fee of about $900 to the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau. 
 
Groupon takes in up to half of each sale when a company creates a promotion, and prices are already reduced by 50 to 90 percent. 
 
Dan Palace, a wealth management banker at Merrill Lynch, has dined at Boka and Blackbird during Chicago Restaurant Week. He said that he probably wouldn’t have gone to either fine dining restaurant if it hadn’t been for the promotion. 
 
Both restaurants were crowded and many diners seemed to be there for restaurant week, Palace said. He liked trying dishes he wouldn’t normally try and said he got three courses for the cost of a typical entrée. 
 
Palace said he would return to Blackbird because of the food, service and sleek design. He thinks the promotion is successful because it is a finite amount of time, so people get more excited. 
 
And excitement and customer loyalty programs incent diners to return, said Tristano. Whether it is 15 percent off the next meal, a free appetizer or a complimentary glass of wine, restaurants’ individual promotions beyond restaurant week will help build a stronger network of diners. 
 
Chicago restaurant week began Feb. 18 and runs through Feb. 27. Additional information is available at the Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau’s website, www.choosechicago.com