A total of 40 eateries in the Manchester area and in Nashua will offer discounted menus for diners between Sunday, Oct. 17, and Sunday, Oct. 24, in the two cities’ versions of a restaurant week.
Twenty-five Manchester area restaurants, all members of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, have signed on for the first-ever Greater Manchester Restaurant Week, organized by the Chamber, scheduled for Oct. 17 through Oct. 24. Participating restaurants have crafted three-course dinner menus that will be offered for $29.95 per person, not including tax and gratuity. A similar discounted dining event, Eats Week, organized by Intown Manchester, was held in April.
The idea to hold a formal restaurant week in the Queen City has been a topic of discussion at the Chamber of Commerce for more than a year, said Chamber vice president of marketing Gemma French.
“What sparked it was all of the new restaurants that are appearing up and down Elm Street,” French said. “We had the realization that we have some really fine dining establishments in the city — that’s probably one of our best-kept secrets.”
“Basically, we decided we needed to share that with the rest of the state and the region and the best way of communicating that was to do an event called restaurant week,” she said.
Restaurants from Bedford, Merrimack and New Boston have also signed on to the Greater Manchester event.
Bedford Village Inn owner Jack Carnevale, whose restaurant will participate in the event, called Manchester’s restaurant week a great way for area restaurants to showcase their wares and to bring attention to all the great chefs in the area.
“We have an abundance of different types of cuisines featured in our back yard here … I think every restaurant will put its best foot forward and design a menu that best exemplifies their cuisine,” Carnevale said.
French said the Chamber modeled the week-long dining event on Portsmouth’s restaurant week..
“We saw how successful they have been with their event. They bring in between 10,000 and 12,000 diners during that week,” French said.
The Portsmouth Restaurant Week began in 2008 with a small group of restaurants, said Valerie Rochon, Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce tourism manager.
“They had some success at it at a time that when it is historically slow for our restaurants, and other restaurants paid attention and joined in the following year,” Rochon said.
The Portsmouth restaurant week boasts three-course prix fixe lunches for $15.95 and, like Manchester, dinner for $29.95 — amounts that have gone unchanged since the event’s inception.
The event, now in its third year, has continued to grow “exponentially” in the seaside city as 37 restaurants have signed on, Rochon said. The seaside dining event is held twice yearly, in March and November.
French said the Chamber selected the week of Oct. 17-24 as it falls after Columbus Day, which she says is a time when local restaurants see a lag in business until the holidays.
A reason behind Portsmouth’s success, Rochon said, is the good value and good food offered to restaurant-goers.
“[Participating restaurants] are using their best practices,” Rochon said. “They’re putting together quality menus and people are finding them to be a good deal.”
French said a three-course meal for less than $30 at Manchester’s higher-end restaurants is “really quite a steal.”
Carnevale said he is also in support of the $29.95 restaurant week price point.
“There are some restaurants where just the entrees are $30,” he said. “I really think it is a good price point for a three-course meal … It’s basically $10 a course when all is said and done. Where can you get an entree for $10 these days?”
Bedford Village Inn, Carnevale said, uses a similar price point for its own prix fixe dining events every March and August.
“You have got to create something for people to go out to these days,” Carnevale said. “If you create a really good opportunity for them, they will come. The same holds true for Manchester Restaurant Week.”
Deals at Nashua restaurants during the city’s Fall Feast Week, organized by Great American Downtown, Oct. 18-22, will vary as Sue Butler, Great American Downtown executive director, wanted the event to be more inclusive.
“For a lot of lunch places, how could they make it to $29? … We want as many restaurants that feel this is a valuable promotion to participate if possible,” Butler said. “We don’t want anyone not to do it because they don’t think they can offer that kind of deal.”
Butler had a part in developing Eats Week as a former employee of Intown Manchester but soon took notice of the Gate City’s dining options after taking the job at Great American Downtown, realizing its potential to host a restaurant week event. The organization now supports both a spring and fall feast week in Nashua.
“When you like a project, it’s always nice to be able to carry it on in another city,” Butler said.
Nashua may not have large venues that draw people to its downtown but it has “excellent restaurants and excellent places to shop,” Butler said.
“[Feast Week] rings the registers, which is one of our biggest goals for most of the events we do,” she said.
Fifteen Nashua restaurants will take part in this year’s fall feast week, with most participants returning from the spring event.
In the past, Nashua’s feast weeks have drawn a couple thousand people to the city’s restaurants.
“One of the nice things is hearing from the restaurants that they were booked all week long,” Butler said, adding that one local restaurant saw an 80-percent increase in people ordering from its spring 2010 feast week menu compared to the 2009 fall feast week.
Many feast week deals, Butler said, fall under $20 as “not everyone has the money to pay $60 minimum for two people to eat.”
“In a tight economy like this, sometimes people need a little more incentive to go out and dine,” Butler said. “Sometimes an upscale, full meal can be tough on your wallet. This way people get to go out and dine at these places for lesser costs.”
In the current economy, while many may feel reluctant to dine out for lunch or dinner, Carnevale said people might venture out during restaurant week and appreciate the savings.
“Of course, it helps the restaurant in that they will be patronized by people that might not otherwise have gone in on that particular occasion … and when people go out to dine, they probably won’t stop at the three-course menu — they will order a glass of wine or something else at the restaurant, which will help the restaurant community with extra revenues,” Carnevale said.
Carnevale said he has proposed a statewide restaurant week or month to the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association.
“I guess I haven’t lobbied hard enough,” Carnevale said. “I think it would be a great thing for New Hampshire to do. It would put us on a level with the Boston restaurant week.”
“Maybe this [time] I will try harder and the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association will come up to the plate,” he said.
Carnevale said it will take community participation to make Manchester’s first restaurant week a success.
“Obviously [the first restaurant week] will predicate how many restaurants will be involved next year by the success of this year,” he said. “I hope it grows to a great proportion.”
Rochon doled out some advice for Queen City restaurants to help ensure that the event will become a Manchester tradition.
“Do it right,” Rochon said. “Don’t try to skimp. Don’t try to slide something onto the menu that you wouldn’t usually cook or are not planning to serve. Do it right for your guests.”
“This is about celebrating the incredible array of fine dining, the great variety of dining, that there is in the New Hampshire area and you want people to come back,” she said. “Do it right.”