Restaurant Week Brings Recession-Friendly Dining to New York

By DNAinfo Staff on January 20, 2010 1:46pm  | Updated on January 20, 2010 2:50pm

By Jennifer Glickel

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

MANHATTAN — More than 260 restaurants — many of which are not normally recession-friendly — will offer affordable prix fixe meals as part of the 19th year of New York City Restaurant Week.

Iconic New York restaurants ranging from One if by Land, Two if by Sea and Le Cirque to newcomers such as the Libertine and Zé Café will offer affordable three-course lunches and dinners for $24.07 and $35, respectively, from Jan. 25 - Feb. 7.

"It's a great thing that a lot of people eat out in New York because we have the best collection of restaurants of any city in the world," said Damian Sansonetti, executive chef at Bar Boulud. "But people think a bit more now before going out and spending money."

Prior to 2008, many restaurants shunned Restaurant Week because the profit margins are narrower when serving dinner for $35. 

"Restaurants definitely didn’t like participating in Restaurant Week in the past. But in the recession we need it," said Eric Hara, executive chef at the Oak Room at the Plaza Hotel. "Before, no one did it for dinner. We would never even consider doing it for dinner. But as the recession came into play, dinner came into play."

Restaurant Week also provides an opportunity for establishments to gain exposure and attract new guests.

"Out of it we've gotten some regulars who liked the restaurant and continued to come back," said David Medina, general manager of Le Colonial, "but also they recommended it to others, which is the best way to do advertising."

But at Le Cirque, where executive chef Craig Hopson offers a three-course prix fixe dinner for $45 in its café year round, the Restaurant Week diners don't seem to stick.

"In a restaurant like this, it’s definitely hard to get people to come back after dining here for Restaurant Week because we are very expensive normally," said Hopson. "I’d like to say we do have a spike in customers after Restaurant Week, but it’s not really noticeable."

While some restaurants compose their Restaurant Week menus of dishes that are available regularly, many chefs create new ones.

"We really wanted to focus our Restaurant Week menu on our classic dishes like the kiev, the borscht, and the stroganoff to give patrons a true taste of what we're all about," said Ken Biberaj, vice president of the Russian Tea Room.

But the Tea Room takes a financial hit by offering their regular dishes — the chicken kiev and the beef stroganoff cost more individually on the à la carte menu than combined on the Restaurant Week menu.

"Beef wellington costs me $50 to produce. To put it on the Restaurant Week menu would be impossible," said Rosanne Martino, general manager of One if by Land, Two if by Sea. "We just couldn’t afford to do that. We’ll do a hangar steak, or something like that, but we’re not going to produce a filet mignon."

Almost all participating restaurants said they're packed during Restaurant Week, and while this doesn't mean the establishments will make tons of money, it does mean that they won't close.

"At the end of the day, nowadays, it’s not about making money. It’s about keeping yourself open," Hara said.

"There’s a saying, 'it’s asses in the seats.' It’s people in your restaurant. It’s revenue," Hara said. "I don’t care who you are, everybody needs that right now."