Welcome to Chow Bella's Bites & Dishes, where Valley chefs and restaurateurs respond to a question New Times food critic Laura Hahnefeld has on her mind. Have a question you'd like to ask? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Arizona Restaurant Week, the twice-a-year event put on by the Arizona Restaurant Association, is gearing up for its nine-day fall celebration which runs from Saturday, September 21, to Sunday, September 29, with an estimated 150 restaurants participating.
The goal of Arizona Restaurant Week is twofold: give food lovers a chance to enjoy affordable prix-fixe dinners and stimulate business for the state's restaurants.
But like any ambitious dining event of this size, there are pros and cons -- for both diners and restaurants. This week, I asked Valley chefs and restaurateurs to outline what some of those might be. This is what they had to say.
Gio Osso, Chef and Owner, Virtu
Pro: You're getting exposure to guests that normally don't go out that often and you have a chance to capture them. Con: You're limited in what you can do in your offerings. The menus are priced low so it's hard to bring in exotic ingredients to show off what you really can do.
Rick Phillips, Owner, Bootleggers
Pro: It's a great way to attract new customers to your restaurant that have been looking to go but haven't made it in yet or are looking for a deal in order to test the waters. Con: You can get overrun and not get to showcase your restaurant in its full-blown glory, or you have a lot of "deal seekers" taking up the seats of your normal "full paying" guests.
Chef Theresa Wille, 32 Shea
Pro: It gives businesses a chance to show people how their restaurant is different from others. Con: It can be tricky to keep high-quality menu ingredients cost-efficient. Sometimes the tasting menu may be offered at a loss in the hopes that new customers will return. The goal is repeat business, not just one meal.
Chef Dustin Christofolo, The House at Secret Garden, Quiessence
Pro: Diners that have wanted to enjoy certain restaurants make it happen during this week so we see an increase of new customers. Con: The exposure is great, although the lower price point can be a challenge and the week after is often slower.
Gary Lasko Proprietor, The Stockyards
Pro: Marketing exposure for the restaurants specifically and the industry as a whole. It drives business and encourages guests to try restaurants for the first time. Con: It may be over-saturation by doing it two weeks a year. (I know others disagree with me on this one.)
Chef Matt Taylor, Market Street Kitchen
Pro: Getting new people in the restaurant who normally might not dine with us and getting them to take a shot at something they may not have tried before. Con: Some nights, the kitchen and waitstaff get brutally slammed, but having butts in seats that might not have been there otherwise helps ease the pain.
Chef Gregory Wiener, Top of the Rock
Pro: Getting more people in the door to experience your restaurant is a plus while establishing yourself as part of a community. Con: Guests don't get the same experience that the "normal" menu lends itself to. Typically, special menus lead to portions that are slashed or quality is slightly dropped to accommodate the pricing. By dropping prices and or quality you could be displacing your normal guests.
Chef Chris Knouse, Litchfield's at The Wigwam
Pro: It's a great opportunity for people who have tight budgets to get out and experience restaurants they would usually never go to or be able to afford. It's also great for some restaurants pick up new customers. Con: Some restaurants may put together a menu that does not actually showcase the vision, capabilities, or even the quality of the product of that restaurant.
Chef Maurice Gordon, The Westin Phoenix Downtown
Pro: It's a great opportunity to promote your restaurant and showcase some of your menu items. It's also a great way for diners to go out and experience restaurants they might not normally visit -- and for a great price! Con: Restaurants can get really busy and the quality of food and service is not necessarily the best example of how they normally do business.
Greg LaPrad, Chef and Owner, Overland Trout, Sonoita
Pro: You have the opportunity to introduce your restaurant to diners who may not have otherwise tried it. It drives traffic during traditionally slower periods for restaurants. Con: It happens too frequently and lasts too long to be really "special." The format of restaurant week doesn't allow all restaurants to fairly represent themselves.
Chef Brian Konefal, Coppa Cafe, Flagstaff
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Pro: It helps bring new people to the restaurant for great exposure. Con: By embracing such a large public -- and doing two to three times the covers -- at a lower price point, it's inevitable that problems will occur. The cooks tend to be burnt out by day three.
Chef Justin Beckett, Chef and Owner, Beckett's Table
Pro: It's a great time for restaurants to be introduced to new guests while also providing a great experience for regulars. Con: Sometimes you don't have enough time to connect with all the guests because it's such a fast-paced time.