Elm City residents have two more days to participate in New Haven’s 20th installment of Restaurant Week.
The event takes place twice yearly, once in the spring and once in the fall. This year, the spring edition runs from April 8 to 13 and will showcase over 30 of the city’s finest restaurants. The six-day event is directed and organized by Market New Haven, a 501(c)(6) public-private partnership that receives its funding from New Haven, Yale, Yale New Haven Hospital and local businesses like Key Bank, among others.
Restaurant Week was founded in November 2008 by Anne Worcester, tournament director of the Connecticut Open and Market New Haven’s chief marketing officer, in collaboration with Yale and New Haven officials. After participating in New York City’s Restaurant Week, she decided to implement a similar event in New Haven, the first promotion of its kind in Connecticut.
“When I saw how popular New York’s was, not just for people looking for a good deal, but for bonafide, well-heeled, knowledgeable foodies, I thought, ‘Hey, you know this is something that we should pursue,’” said Worcester. “I thought to myself, ‘We have enough of a critical mass of international, award-winning restaurants; we should do this in New Haven.’”
In 2017, Restaurant Week attracted approximately 50,000 customers. Worcester credited Market New Haven’s extensive marketing and communications program, which includes social media and event promotion, as the catalyst for this success. She said Market New Haven’s goal is to advertise New Haven as a destination to live, work in and visit.
Although Market New Haven will consider any restaurant for the event, participating eateries must adhere to the price points set by Restaurant Week. These price points, currently a $17 lunch prix fixe price and a $34 dinner prix fixe price, are decided upon by the restaurants themselves.
“It’s open to any restaurant, but it really has to make sense. Fast food wouldn’t qualify,” adds Worcester. “So, for example, if a patron can purchase an appetizer, entree, and dessert for $17 dollars or less for lunch, the fine dining establishment does not qualify. The same rules apply for dinner. If somebody can go to a restaurant and create a dinner menu for less than the $34, why bother? So there has to be a value back to the consumer.”
Union League Cafe has been involved in New Haven Restaurant Week since its inception. Jean-Michel Gammariello, the restaurant’s general manager and sommelier, told the News that Union League doesn’t participate in restaurant week for the profits.
What Gammariello loves about Restaurant Week is seeing the new clientele it attracts, especially students. He noted that the discounted price points allow members of the community who otherwise might not be able to afford Union League to dine there.
“We consider it opening the door to people who don’t usually have the occasion to come,” Gammariello said. “We didn’t do it for … profit. We do it more for a matter of promotion.”
According to Worcester, the set prices promise about a 20 percent discount for lunch or dinner at the participating restaurants. Such a rate is meant to benefit both the patron and the business.
But Danielle Losos ’21 said the prices are still too high to attract college students who dine on a budget. She learned about Restaurant Week through friends’ posts on Facebook and was interested in taking part until she saw the set prices. Losos said the $34 dinner price kept her away from an event she originally saw as a wonderful way to partake in New Haven’s restaurant culture.
“I think it’s catered towards more affluent adults living in New Haven who … have several hours to devote to a slow meal on a weeknight and also who have the money to pay for a very expensive dinner,” Losos said. “Especially when we have the meal plan — if I’m going to go out to dinner as a college student, it has to be much more affordable.”
Participating restaurants are required to contribute a marketing fee to Market New Haven.
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