Restaurant promotion underway

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Business owners predict that Hamptons Restaurant Week, during which many East End restaurants offer a three-course prix-fixe dinner for $21.95, will draw plenty of diners.

Hamptons Restaurant Week, which began its sixth annual run on Sunday, March 30, and continues through Sunday, April 6, faces the tall challenge of matching last year’s revenue, which amounted to more than $1.2 million, according to Steve Haweeli, president of WordHampton, the public relations firm promoting Restaurant Week.

“We believe that the East End is somewhat recession proof,” Mr. Haweeli said. “People who might not take a big Florida vacation may decide to take a three- or four-day vacation out to the East End,” he explained. “Likewise, when the dollar drops, it’s a bargain for Europeans to come here nowadays.”

Mr. Haweeli added, “Good economy, bad economy—everyone loves a deal.”

Dinners served on Saturday, April 5 after 7 p.m. are not included in the Restaurant Week promotion.

The total number of participating restaurants and related businesses peaked at 143 in 2006 and has since dropped to its current level of 85. Sponsorship funds have also sunk. Mr. Haweeli said he believed that the falling membership may have to do with a $250 fee for all participating businesses that he began requiring last year.

But not only has the program generated steadily rising business revenue, he said, it has also brought a marked increase in the number of restaurant meals served and in tax dollars generated by East End restaurants.

Restaurant owner and advertising executive Jerry Della Femina, who came up with the idea for a Hamptons Restaurant Week in 2003, agreed. “I think the poor economy will help,” he said, emphasizing that the Hamptons are more accessible to Northeasterners than most resort areas and will be attracting hordes of foreigners this year due to the weak dollar.

Max Weintraub of Café Max was equally optimistic, commenting that many people have been holding off going out for dinner until Restaurant Week, when they can “go out and enjoy themselves because they had a good time last year.”

Some dedicated restaurant week attendees, however, claimed to have noticed some signs of economic strain this year. Jean Kunzelman, a longtime resident of East Hampton, observed that some restaurants have added surcharges to several items on their prix fixe menus. “You might as well not include a prime steak on the prix fixe if it’s another $5,” she said.

Similarly, a diner posted the following message on a Hamptons website: “People who go to Restaurant Week would like to experience things from the regular menu—not ‘special’ things prepared for this week that are usually cheaper offerings and not representative of their regular menu.”

Funded and organized by WordHampton, the program began in the spring of 2003 when Jerry Della Femina suggested there should be an East End version of New York’s highly successful restaurant week.

After a slow start, Hamptons Restaurant Week by 2005 included 125 participating businesses, with $25,500 in sponsorship money for promotion and a healthy $828,800 in estimated revenues.

The program’s primary mission is to provide both locals and out-of-towners the opportunity to dine at upscale East End restaurants that they otherwise might not frequent. A number of area hotels, inns, and wineries also participate in the program, providing special discounts.

The event occurs in late March or early April, coinciding with improving weather while avoiding competition with the Long Island and New York restaurant weeks, which take place in November and January, respectively. Walter Struble, general manager of Della Femina Restaurant, points out that the spring months are a “great time for people to get out of their cabin fever” and that Restaurant Week is a great way to “kickstart the summer season.”

Why not have it in the fall to stave off the slower winter season? “Post-Labor Day, restaurateurs are exhausted and need a breather from the tough summer season,” Mr. Haweeli said.

Lee Ellis, general manager of the Mill House Inn, views restaurant week as “more of a gesture of camaraderie than a profit-oriented program.” Michael Cohen, manager of the 1770 House, said that one of the functions of the hospitality industry is to “provide our guests with a little treat” from time to time.

For a list of restaurants and other businesses that participate in the program, visit http://www.hamptonsrestaurantweek.com.

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