Monday, August 23, 2010

Bon Appetit Baltimore

By Tim Richardson

Food brings people together. Whether it’s a first date, a special occasion or just catching up with friends, going out to dinner is always a popular idea.

Baltimore and roughly a dozen other cities around the country capitalize on that notion as twice a year (winter and summer) they offer a weeklong celebration of cuisine called “Restaurant Week.” During this time in Baltimore, more than 100 restaurants throughout the city offer customers the opportunity to enjoy a three-course dinner (not including alcohol) from special prix-fixed menus for a reduced set rate. Some restaurants also offer a lunch menu.

Baltimore’s summer edition of Restaurant Week took place August 13-22 and featured a set price of $35.10 for dinner. The primary objective of the promotion is to entice diners who have been watching their budgets to venture out to a local restaurant for an enjoyable gourmet meal at an affordable price…and it usually occurs in a restaurant that they have not visited previously.

But from a marketing standpoint, it’s also a great vehicle for restaurateurs to promote their restaurants to the community in an effort to attract new business. People are more selective these days on how they spend their discretionary income. So competing against dining at a local restaurant are activities such as taking in a play, going to a concert, or attending a sporting event. That said, showcasing the area’s restaurants and helping diners discover new establishments not only highlights the many offerings available in Baltimore, but it brings an economic surge to the area. By offering a diverse selection at an affordable price, restaurants can sell around 1,000 Restaurant Week menus during the promotion. In an economy where people have elected to eat at home more instead of dine out, that traffic and revenue are clearly significant to the restaurant industry. Some restaurants have even chosen to extend their Restaurant Week specials, varying in length by the restaurant.

Restaurant Week is also a resourceful PR initiative for Visit Baltimore and the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore in how they market the city. Visit Baltimore is the official sales and marketing organization for Baltimore, while the Downtown Partnership is a nonprofit corporation whose mission is to make downtown Baltimore a great place for businesses, employees, residents and visitors. During Baltimore’s Restaurant Week this summer, over 4,200 people “liked” the promotion on Facebook and it was “re-tweeted” by more than 200 users on Twitter. Stories also appeared in the mainstream media on TV and in print/online outlets about the restaurants featured in Restaurant Week, the popularity of the promotion, etc.

And word is spreading to other cities about Baltimore’s Restaurant Week. According to an article in the August 3 issue of The Baltimore Sun, the culinary offerings of the city were a main topic when Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake spoke earlier this summer at a meeting in Oklahoma City. The Mayor was addressing the U.S. Conference of Mayors about what will be taking place when the group visits Baltimore next summer, and a number of the questions from her fellow city leaders concerned the food in Baltimore.

I’m a fan of Restaurant Week. My wife and I participate in both of the seasons in which it takes place and enjoy the opportunity to try new places that peak our interest from the list of participating restaurants. In fact, one of the restaurants we visited last summer is now the place where we dine throughout the year to celebrate all of our special occasions. That would not be the case if my wife had not said, “I’ve always wanted to try that place…let’s check it out during Restaurant Week.”

So the concept of a special, low-cost menu that allows people the opportunity to enjoy a night out while also generating interest about the city’s local restaurants and boosting the economy seems like a pretty good deal for everyone.

Tim Richardson is the Executive Vice President of Maroon PR. Contact him at

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