What do Charlotte chefs really think about Restaurant Week?

What do Charlotte chefs really think about Restaurant Week?
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Queen’s Feast. It comes along twice a year here in Charlotte. Strategically marketed to get diners into the door of some of Charlotte’s most popular restaurants. Three courses for $30 or $35 (July 17 – 26), how could you go wrong?!

Well, maybe I’m just the Grinch of Restaurant Week Past, but it just doesn’t do it for me. I’ve gone to my fair share of Restaurant Week dinners with friends and family over the past 7-8 years.

Every time, I end up leaving feeling slightly underwhelmed.

Was it good? Sure…but it wasn’t anything mind-blowing or super creative. It was more like kale and burrata salads, a good pasta dish and chocolate cake – things that, lets face it, are easy for the kitchen to execute.

I have never worked in a restaurant that participated in Charlotte Restaurant Week, but I think I know how I would feel if I did. As a chef, I tell my story and exercise my creativity through the food I put on a plate and serve to eager diners, and from my experience, restaurant week “stunts” this expression.

MealsServed

With that being said, there are some restaurants that seem to be approaching restaurant week in a unique way. Take Vivace for example. They are making almost all of their regular menu available. Smart.

Here’s how Chef Suppa of Vivace feels about restaurant week:

Restaurant Week is great for business. There’s an energy around it, and our employees love sharing our authentic Italian cuisine with guests. We anticipate seeing a lot of new faces and think the week provides a great chance for people to experience restaurants they’ve been anxious to try but haven’t yet experienced, as well as revisit their tried and true favorites.

We take great pride in what we do and love answering questions. The week provides a great chance to showcase that our pasta, breads and desserts are all housemade  — something I believe many Charlotteans may not realize. And we’re offering our full a la carte menu, so guests will have plenty of options from which to choose.

I believe Restaurant Week is a terrific opportunity for us to strive to turn new guests into regulars.”

carbonara-vivace-charlotte

Again, so smart. If you want to win over guests and get them to be regulars, why wouldn’t you pull out all of the stops and show them what your restaurant has to offer?

This is Evoke’s first time being a part of Charlotte Restaurant Week, so I asked their Chef de Cuisine, Robert Reinken his thoughts:

Like anything else, there is good and bad that goes along with Restaurant Week. For us at Evoke, it is a great thing right now. We are in our first year, and looking to build local business, so this is a great opportunity to get local diners in to show off the place and get exposure. We want to get people in, have a great meal, tell all of their friends, then come back and dine with us again. This is of course, best case scenario.

Complaints I hear from people who have been participating in the Queen’s Feast for years tell me that diners making reservations at places like ours are only coming because it is $30, and that they won’t be back to pay full price. If that’s the case, it proposes a financial problem to what a restaurant is, a business. For us, $30 is a very low price point for 3 courses, one that cannot really make us any money for the amount of work put into restaurant week. So the payoff for the business in theory is the exposure that will bring diners back to us when we can turn a profit. If it does not, then no, it does not pay for us to participate.

From an execution standpoint, it is easy, because 95% of the guests each night order from that menu so we are just cooking the same 6 or so dishes all night. The point is to show diners what Evoke is about, and give them a taste of our food. If I just put salad and chicken on the menu to battle the $30 price tag, then people would wonder why they should come back and spend their money on our menu. For now, I still think it is good for us to build a reputation in the Charlotte dining community as a great restaurant and a destination.”

ChocolateCake

If you look closely at the list of this year’s participating restaurants , you’ll notice some big time names are missing from the list. None of Jim Noble’s restaurants are participating. Nor are Bruce Moffett’s. And where is my beloved Customshop? Rocksalt for that matter? I reached out for comments from these chefs.

Chef Jay from Rocksalt:

I think there’s a time and a place for Restaurant Week. It’s a wonderful opportunity for people who dine out infrequently to try some things and restaurants that they have not had a chance to check out. I don’t think the format of Restaurant Week is a no-brainer for all types of restaurants. We don’t want to spend one week doing food or portions that we don’t normally do for people to be introduced to us in that context, because when they return and they can’t get those dishes or those portion sizes for that price, they inevitably are disappointed. If you ask diners who love Restaurant Week what is so great about it, they say that they can go to restaurants that they otherwise would not go to. That is not a way to build a following or to build a business. With the focus on price, I think the experience is lost. I could be wrong.”

oysters-at-rocksalt

At the end of the day, I don’t hate Charlotte Restaurant Week, and I don’t think chefs do either. I think I can safely say we get what its purpose is. It just might not be for everybody, and you know what? That’s okay.

So go ahead and go out and dine at some of Charlotte’s great restaurants. But please, support these businesses for more than just twice a year. If we want our city of Charlotte to be taken seriously, we need a stable and good restaurant scene. We owe it to them and to Charlotte.

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