In cities from the Atlantic to the Pacific, restaurants come together biannually to provide patrons with a special menu that consists of a prix-fixe appetizer, entrée and dessert. What makes this week, referred to as Restaurant Week, so special is that often the finest restaurants in town participate. This means that couples can dine at some of the most elegant restaurants around for only a fraction of the normal price.
What began as a lunch only promotional event in New York City in 1992 has slowly spread to major cities throughout the country. In the past few years, Restaurant Week trickled down so it now feels like it is always Restaurant Week somewhere-- from Honolulu to Charleston. Not only do cities host Restaurant Week, but now entire states go for the event. In the state of Arizona, over 200 of the state's top restaurants participate together in this culinary affair. Most Restaurant Week participants offer both a winter and summer three-course weekly deal that is served up for both lunch and dinner. In many locations, diners are known for planning their entire week out in advanced, eating at numerous of the top rated restaurants throughout the seven-day window, all on a shoestring budget.
According to the Visitor Bureau in Denver, Colorado, this city has the nation's largest number of restaurants participating in Restaurant Week with over 300 restaurants opening up their kitchens for the Winter 2011 Restaurant Week.
In any participating city, diners can chose from a casual low-key local restaurant or go all out for a top rated eatery. In Chicago, where over 200 restaurants participate, restaurants like Rick Bayless' Frontera Grill, Blackbird and Naha all partake in Restaurant Week. In this city, diners pay $22 for lunch or $33 for dinner and can expect mouthwatering fare such as a butternut and ricotta tart with black trumpet mushrooms, Kurobuta pork belly, a milk-braised pork shoulder or a sake glazed black cod.
While most cities have the profits from Restaurant Week go directly to the businesses, several cities use at least a portion of the profits to support local social projects. In San Diego, which has over 200 participating restaurants, Restaurant Week supports various educational programs throughout the county such as helping to construct and maintain organic gardens at local schools, supplying aprons and coats to students attending San Diego Unified High School Culinary Programs and providing scholarships for high school and undergraduate students to further their education in the hospitality industry.
In Tulsa, Oklahoma, Restaurant Week donates 10 percent of all its proceeds to local food banks and the George Kaiser Foundation. In Dayton, Ohio, one dollar from every meal benefits a selection of local charities.
This culinary event has taken on a life of its own and often people mark their calendar well in advance to ensure they can reserve the best tables. So be aware, that reservations are highly recommended during Restaurant Week.