What started as a one-time bargain week for political junkies visiting New York in the summer of 1992 has grown into one of the most eagerly awaited times of the year for foodies.
As NYC Restaurant Week turns 25 — with the summer installment kicking off July 24 — the original organizers said they never planned for the dining promotion to be a quintessential New York event. But knew that they were highlighting an untapped sector of the city’s economy.
“I’m not surprised it’s lasted this long,” said former Mayor David Dinkins, who helped launch Restaurant Week with industry leaders such as Tim Zagat. “Here in New York, the restaurants have all kinds of foods. … It seems like every other day I’m going to some new restaurant.”
The first Restaurant Week coincided with the 1992 Democratic National Convention at Madison Square Garden to promote the city during its national spotlight. Big-name restaurants including Tavern on the Green, Gotham Bar and Grill and the Russian Tea Room participated in the lunch promotion, which cost $19.92.
After the bargain week became a huge hit with the public, it returned year after year with more locations, and a winter Restaurant Week launched in 2000.
This summer installment of Restaurant Week, which lasts until Aug. 18, offers $29 prix fixe brunch and lunches and $42 prix fixe dinners at 390 locations in all five boroughs. For the silver anniversary, 32 new participating locations will take part, including Haru Hell’s Kitchen and Cut by Wolfgang Puck. Midtown’s Salvation Burger was an expected participant, but announced Thursday it will be shutting its doors before the week kicks off.
Tracy Nieporent, a partner in the Myriad Restaurant Group, which includes Nobu and Tribeca Grill, has helped manage Restaurant Week since the beginning. He said New Yorkers have come to expect the best during the promotion, and chefs and restaurant owners are eager to step up to the challenge.
“It’s really about the restaurants coming together,” he said. “[New York is] a restaurant community, and we want to be at our best during the Restaurant Week period.”
Fred Dixon, the president and CEO of NYC & Company, the city’s tourism wing that organizes Restaurant Week, said the promotion has been a major boon for New York’s economy during the slow tourism periods of winter and summer. Restaurant Week diners who used OpenTable have generated $108 million since 2007, according to NYC & Company.
Dixon acknowledged that there are still some ways to improve the promotion so that more eateries are represented, especially in the outer boroughs. He noted that customers’ tastes have changed, too, and that more are heading to casual dining spots and food halls in the city.
Although the pricing for those casual options are already lower than some of the participating Restaurant Week locations, Dixon said they too deserve the same spotlight and promotion in a similar campaign.
“We’d love to crack that sometime in the near future,” he said.
In the meantime, Dixon said his team has been utilizing online tools to keep Restaurant Week fresh. The city collaborated with OpenTable to help customers reserve tables and check out menus. It is also running an Instagram contest that will award prizes to users who take the best photos using the hashtag #NYCRestaurantWeek.
“Dining and cuisine are the most Instagrammed activities,” Dixon said. “The role that dining and social media play today is impressive.”