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Restaurant Week serves boost to local economy

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     (EPIC)

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    Frozen custard sage, grilled peach jam, pecan biscotti from Bonterra in Charlotte, N.C. (Bonterra)

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    Braised Short Rib with grilled radicchio, goat cheese gnocchi & quince and red onion relish from Bonterra in Charlotte, N.C. (Bonterra)

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    Roasted mushroom salad with pea shoots, pistachio vinaigrette and beet chips from Bonterra in Charlotte, N.C. (Bonterra)

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    Panko breaded feta croquettes with fennel confit, pomegranate seeds and pomegranate molasses from Bonterra in Charlotte, N.C. (Bonterra)

If your 2012 New Year resolutions include losing weight, eating healthier and spending less you may want to consider putting those resolutions on hold for a week. 

This is the time of year when food lovers from coast to coast rejoice over two basic words, “Restaurant Week.” The concept is simple. Cities promote one week (or more) in January or February to lure foodies or anyone who loves to eat into local restaurants by offering reduced price-fixed menus for lunch and dinner. Diners get to experience a memorable meal and restaurants get a big boost in return.

The original Restaurant Week was born 20 years ago in New York City, “as a one time culinary event” to coincide with the Democratic National Convention in 1992. What started out with 95 restaurants offering three course meals for the bargain price of $19.92 has grown into a three week (20 days in honor of the 20th anniversary) dining experience including more than 300 restaurants. NYC’s Restaurant Week runs through February 10th (Monday-Friday only) with prix-fixe lunches for $24.07 and dinners, $35.00, featuring more than two dozen cuisines from A to Z.

Today more than 50 U.S. cities are cashing in on the Restaurant Week philosophy, giving diners the opportunity to discover new restaurants (and old favorites) for a real value. Check out how four cities are turning RW success into big bucks.

Charlotte, NC

The Queen City launched its Restaurant Week, appropriately named “Queens Feast” back in 2008. Since then the event has grown significantly, expanding into twice a year, summer and winter Participating restaurants only offer three course dinners for $30. The first year proved so successful RW expanded to twice a year, summer and winter. The most recent Restaurant Week, July 2011, included 92 restaurants and 90,000 dinners sold, generating $4.2 million. 

“We are drawing diners regionally as well as from up and down the East Coast… the feedback is overwhelmingly positive,” says Bruce Hensley, whose public relations firm manages the event. 

If you live near Charlotte, you better hurry up and make a reservation. Restaurant Week currently runs through Sunday, Jan. 29th. 

Best deals: Chima Brazilian Steakhouse, Bonterra and Blue.

Baltimore, MD

Baltimore may not be the first city that comes to mind when you think of fine dining or celebrity chefs, but the city’s food scene is rapidly changing. Baltimore’s Restaurant Week, is all the talk on twitter (more than 1,000 tweets so far) and food bloggers refer to the city as a “foodie haven.” 

The city is promoting the event on Facebook by holding a daily drawing for a $20 gift certificate to one of the 90+ participating restaurants. In order to guarantee a steady stream of hungry customers Restaurant Week organizers lowered prices by $5.00 from last year giving diners a better value: three course dinners for $30.12 and lunches for $15.12. 

Many restaurants are extending deals through Sunday, Feb. 5th.

Best deals: Cinghiale, Pazo and Petit Louis. (all home to James Beard award winning Chef, Cindy Wolf and sommelier Tony Foreman).

Chicago, IL

One of the most recognized food cities in the world Chicago takes its annual Restaurant Week (February 17-26) very seriously. Launched in 2008 with 44 restaurants, the coveted eating event now features 230 restaurants. Last year restaurants served 377,000 dinners, a 13% increase over 2010, generating nearly $20 million over ten days.

“We’ve seen steady growth in a downturn economy. The menu pricing is attractive for diners and encourages them to check out restaurants during a typically slower time..,, it’s really a win-win for the consumer and the restaurant,” says Kara Carmichael, marketing manager at the Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau. 

There are 80 newcomers to this year’s Restaurant Week, including GT Fish & Oyster, Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse, NoMI Kitchen and Table Fifty-Two (home to celebrity chef Art Smith, one-time chef for Oprah Winfrey and co-owner of Lady Gaga’s new restaurant opening in NYC) 

Best Deals: EPIC, The Palm, Devon Seafood Grill.

Los Angeles, CA

dineLA 2012 is currently underway and runs through Feb. 3. Offered twice a year in January and October, restaurant managers praise the event’s organizers for “helping small businesses survive through difficult times.” Last year, both Restaurant Weeks combined contributed $11.4 million to the city’s economy. 

“dineLA Restaurant Week began as a way to put Los Angeles on the map as one of the nation’s top culinary destinations,” says Mark Liberman, president and CEO of LA INC. The Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The program has not only showcased the City’s rich range of restaurants, it has also boosted Los Angeles’ economic engine.” 

dineLA is a bit unique because it offers diners tiered pricing for lunch and dinner based on the restaurant, Deluxe ($16/$26) Premier ($22/$34) and Fine dining ($28/$44). 

Best values: Wolfgang Puck’s Spago, The Bazaar by Jose Andrés, and Luques from Suzanne Goin, which all typically booked solid before their dineLA menus are released. dineLA 2012 runs through February 3. If you don’t live in LA not to worry, it just so happens January is Restaurant Month in California, which means you can find special promotions almost everywhere.

Click here for a complete list of cities featuring Restaurant Week.

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