The long, cold winter may have helped Schenectady Restaurant Week have its best year ever.
The annual weeklong promotion, during which local restaurants offer three-course dinners at a fixed price, is usually scheduled for a slow week in February. It’s largely weather-dependent, so when there are big snowstorms, participating restaurants don’t see a huge turnout.
During this year’s particularly grueling winter, Restaurant Week happened to fall on a week when the weather was good and people were fed up with feeling cooped up.
“The weather was fantastic,” said Gail Hopper, director of government relations and business services at the Chamber of Schenectady County. “I think people were looking to get out and do something fun, because this winter has just been horrendous. I ate out twice that week, and I know people who ate out three times during the week because it was just something to do.”
More than 7,000 dinners were served during the ninth annual Schenectady Restaurant Week, which is organized by the chamber and the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corp. This is slightly higher than last year, Hopper said.
More than half of the people who dined out for Restaurant Week said they wouldn’t have eaten out if it weren’t for the $20.14 fixed-price menus.
A quarter of those who dined out for Restaurant Week were from outside Schenectady County. Forty percent of Restaurant Week diners were first-time visitors.
Those last statistics are why Stockade Inn manager Jeff McDonald continues to participate in the weeklong event.
“The thing that surprised me most was the number of people that it drew from outside the area,” he said. “I think it’s the key to the success of Restaurant Week actually, to draw in new customers who give you a chance when they wouldn’t otherwise.
“It’s not necessarily a money-making endeavor for a more formal restaurant like ours that has a higher price point, but it’s a long-term investment in drawing in those new customers.”
The Stockade Inn served more than 400 dinners during the week. McDonald said he was unsure how this compared with previous years, though he does remember that every Restaurant Week has been a busy one.
Higher-end restaurants typically see a big turnout during Restaurant Week, because customers tend to get a bargain for the quality of food. But even smaller restaurants that serve pub fare did well this year, said Hopper. Centre Street Pub was packed every single night, she noted.
For a restaurant like Aperitivo Bistro, Restaurant Week isn’t about making money.
In fact, the State Street restaurant usually anticipates losing money during the promotion. After all, its menu normally includes a few entrees upward of $30 (the grilled New York strip and pan seared scallops, in case you were wondering).
“It was never about profitability on our end,” said co-owner Peter Blackman. “It’s about getting involved in and supporting your community, as far as I’m concerned. You know, even if you lose money that week, it’s about being on the team.”
This year was better than usual, though. Aperitivo sold between 700 and 800 three-course meals, and Restaurant Week customers were less frugal than in previous years.
“Sometimes you’ll get that crowd that’s just trying to get as much value out of the meal as they can,” said Blackman.
“But this year, it was a different vibe. People saying, ‘Wow, this is great stuff,’ and willing to order an extra appetizer or a few more glasses of wine.”
The Chamber measures the success of Restaurant Week based on customer surveys and consulting with restaurateurs after the fact. The Chamber website, which lists Restaurant Week menus, had more than 22,000 visitors during the month of February — 66 percent more than an average month. All of the 26 restaurants participating this year said they plan to participate again next year.