Back in 1992, when the late restaurateur Joe Baum and I dreamed up what we called Restaurant Week, we had no idea that it would become a national and international institution. The original four-day event was created as a goodwill gesture to the 15,000 reporters coming to cover that year's Democratic National Convention. Frankly, we thought it would be a short-term money loser but have long-term PR benefit for New York and the restaurant industry. Now, almost 20 years later, restaurant weeks have become a tradition in city after city because they appeal to both customers and restaurants. In short: they are a win-win.
Customers love them because they offer a chance to experience many of their city's best restaurants for a modest price. The restaurants gain by attracting thousands of new diners, principally younger people and retirees who might hesitate to try such restaurants without the assurance of an affordable bill. Restaurant Weeks have become Restaurant Months—and then some. For example, New York City's Restaurant Week has stretched to two weeks in January and two weeks in July (i.e. times when seats are hard to fill).
For a number of years now, that seemed to be all there was to know about Restaurant Week. However, this year over 170 of the 260 places participating in NYC's summer Restaurant Week have extended their bargain-priced menus through Labor Day. Why, you might ask? Is it because the restaurant industry is in a slump? Or has Restaurant Week proven so successful that the industry wants it to go on year-long? I would answer both questions with an emphatic "yes."