Restaurants throughout New Haven are gearing up for an influx of customers in the city’s annual restaurant week, which begins Sunday.
Because of the boom in sales that has accompanied the event historically, 36 different New Haven eateries have signed up to offer discounted, fixed-price menus. As part of the unified organization for the week, which lasts through Nov. 12, all participating restaurants will offer the same prices: Next week, as in previous years, lunch will cost $16.38 — in honor of New Haven’s founding in 1638 — and dinner will cost $29. Though these prices do not take effect until Sunday night, preparation for the event is already underway.
“We want to make New Haven a restaurant Mecca,” said Prasad Chirnomula, the owner and executive chef of both Thali and Oaxaca restaurants on South Orange and College streets, respectively.
Last year, he added, New Haven restaurants served an estimated 40,000 meals during the week. He said he hopes this year will serve a record-breaking 50,000 meals.
Five New Haven restaurant owners and managers told the News earlier this week that their establishments were busy finalizing their menu listings in preparation for the biannual promotion. Restaurant week menus offer three courses and a smaller selection than a regular menu. Despite these guidelines, each restaurant has a different way of choosing which dishes will best showcase its business.
For example, Carmen Anthony Steakhouse on State Street is serving its most popular items in order to “put its best foot forward,” said Scott Scalabrino, the restaurant’s general manager. During restaurant week, Carmen Anthony will serve dishes such as its clam chowder, which was named “best clam chowder in the state” by Connecticut Magazine. Niza Hamzah, manager of the Malaysian restaurant Bentara on Orange Street, said she is taking a different approach. The items on Bentara’s upcoming restaurant week menu are not the ones customers normally order, so Hamzah said she hopes that restaurant week will open up customers’ preferences. She explained that most people are not familiar with Malaysian food, and they tend to avoid unfamiliar dishes. Bentara’s solution to this problem is to offer less familiar items, such as a fruit salad with cucumber and spicy peanut sauce called rojak.
Restaurants are preparing more than just their menus for this event. David McCoart, the owner of the Sage American Grill & Oyster Bar, said he expects about a 50 percent increase in the number of people who will come in during restaurant week. Hamzah, for her part, said she estimates that there will be anywhere from a 70 to 80 percent increase in customers next week.
To accommodate this influx of people, restaurant owners said they are planning to increase staff during restaurant week. Scalabrino said he may bring in employees from Carmen Anthony’s restaurants in other towns such as Woodbury, Avon and Weathersfield.
Aside from preparing menus and staffers, some restaurants are also fixing up their decor. Sage, which suffered flooding damage in August’s Hurricane Irene, recently replaced its carpet and repainted, McCoart said, adding that the event will be “a good opportunity to let our customers know we reopened and are better than ever.”
This year, restaurants in New Haven are partnering with the Connecticut Food Bank as part of the week’s promotions. At every meal, Hamzah said, a server will ask if the customers would like to make a one-dollar donation to the Food Bank.