Frederick County restaurant managers say they look forward to Restaurant Week to serve their signature dishes to people who might otherwise pass them by at other times of the year.
“It gets people who might not be typically excited about restaurants, it gets them excited,” said Arthur Miller, general manager at Isabella’s Taverna & Tapas Bar in downtown Frederick.
Twenty-two Frederick County restaurants are participating in this year’s Restaurant Week, which began Monday and runs through Sunday.
That number is up from 21 in 2012, as the promotion has remained steady, with 21 restaurants participating in 2010 and 18 in 2011.
Isabella’s Taverna & Tapas Bar has already has seen a big jump in reservations, Miller said Monday.
“People say, ‘We can’t always go to this restaurant, that’s a little out of our price range.’ We are a slightly higher than [an] average-price restaurant,” Miller said. “This gives people an opportunity to go someplace they maybe couldn’t afford normally.”
“We’re fortunate to have really strong participation both in downtown and throughout the county,” said Kara Norman, executive director of the Downtown Frederick Partnership, which runs the promotion with the Frederick Tourism Council. “It continues to be a great chance to come out and eat.”
Norman said many of the restaurants tell her they see repeat business from the promotion, as diners discover new favorites during the promotion.
She said Frederick’s week was inspired by the range of dining options in the city, and seeing the success of similar promotions in other areas.
“We thought, ‘We’ve got wonderful culinary offerings, we really should be celebrating them,’” she said.
The price increases one cent each year to reflect the year of the promotion.
This year, lunches will cost $15.13 for a two-course meal and $20.13 for a three-course meal. Dinners will cost $20.13 for two courses or $30.13 for three courses.
Pricing is per person and excludes beverages, taxes and gratuity, unless otherwise noted by individual restaurants.
To participate, restaurants pay $325, and a lesser fee for a second or third restaurant, which includes the costs of advertising and organizing the promotion, Norman said.
“It’s a great opportunity for them to pool their resources and get a bigger bang than their individual buck,” she said.
Most of the work for the partnership and tourism council took place in the last few months, and now the work shifts to the restaurants crafting the meals, Norman said. A list of participating restaurants and menus is available at www.FrederickRestaurantWeek.com.
The promotion rubs off on other businesses, too, driving additional traffic to the shops in Frederick’s downtown, she said.
“On an everyday basis in downtown Frederick, I think the restaurants are a thing that brings people downtown,” Norman said. “I think this brings even more people downtown.”
The organizers were happy to see many restaurants using the website www.opentable.com to take reservations, which makes it easier for customers, Norman said.
Restaurant weeks have become popular statewide, with every county having a promotion in some form, and some larger cities, like Rockville and Baltimore, hosting their own weeks, said Laura Kimmel, director of membership and marketing for trade group the Restaurant Association of Maryland.
The events benefit both customers and restaurants because the special deals offered bring in additional traffic, Kimmel said.
“It’s basically a way to make a special event anytime throughout the year to encourage patrons to dine out,” she said. “... Everybody sees an increase in traffic. The exact numbers depends on how they track, but it’s enough that the same group of restaurants stay coming back year after year.”
For the restaurants, participation is a great advertisement, restaurateurs said.
JoJo’s Restaurant & Tap House, which opened in August 2012, is a first-time participant in Frederick Restaurant Week, Head Chef Kevin Barnette said.
The restaurant’s menu choices for the week focus mainly on dishes that are regularly available instead of new dishes, he said.
“When I was putting it together, I wanted to showcase our day-to-day items and sprinkle in some other items,” he said.
He didn’t have exact numbers of the increase in reservations, but said the restaurant had seen an increase in lunch and dinner reservations.
“We’ve gotten some reservations already starting to fill up for next week,” Barnette said. “It’s higher — a little bit higher. The weekends are about the same since you can only take so many reservations, but during the week, we’ve had more reservations than usual.”
At Isabella’s Taverna & Tapas, customers were making reservations on nights which typically have none, Miller said.
“[Monday] for instance, normally we wouldn’t have any reservations. We’ll do business as people walk in, but typically no reservations. Tonight we have over 30 people who already have tables reserved,” Miller said. “It’s significant.”
Not every day was as noticeable as Monday’s reservations, but each night had more than was typical, Miller said.
The restaurant’s offerings for the week are about 70 percent of dishes that are typically not available, including popular specials run in the past or newly created items, and about 30 percent things typically found on the menu, Miller said.
“That way, wait staff can say, ‘If you liked that shrimp, we have it on the menu,’ or ‘Come back some time this week because once it’s gone, it’s gone,’” he said.