Like satisfied diners licking their lips as a luscious meal is served, Atlantic City-area restaurants are hoping to expand their appetites and take in a whole lot of diners this week.
Atlantic City Restaurant Week, now in its sixth year, features 83 restaurants — but not just in Atlantic City. Restaurants from Galloway Township to Mays Landing to Somers Point to Brigantine are participating in the weeklong event, from today through March 8, that features special three-course prix fixe dinner menus at $33.14 per person. Several restaurants also offer the same deal for lunch at $15.14 per person.
Casino Reinvestment Development Authority spokeswoman Elaine Zamansky, citing marketing partnership manager Doreen Prinzo, said the number of meals served for Restaurant Week has grown 30 percent year over year. In addition, many restaurants have reported being booked two months ahead of time.
Larry Boylan, owner/chef of the Inn at Sugar Hill in Mays Landing, said Restaurant Week is “the biggest week of the winter season” — and a very festive one.
“Unlike some holidays, where there’s almost pressure on people to go out with friends and family — like Easter, Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving — for Restaurant Week, people really want to go out and be with the people they’re dining with,” Boylan said. “It’s just a celebration of all the great restaurants in the area, and it’s a joy to wait on people who really want to be there.”
Exposure to new (and potentially repeat) diners is one of the biggest impacts of Restaurant Week, Zamansky said.
“It helps them build a new customer base,” she said. “People see it as a way to try a new restaurant without the costs.”
Over in Brigantine, Cellar 32 is participating for the first time, said co-owner Fran Palena.
“We’re going into our third year with the business,” Palena said. “The first year we were revising the menu and kitchen, and last year we revised the kitchen and staff. So this is the first year we’re able to do this.”
Palena left the special Restaurant Week menu up to the chef, who will serve up a crab cake platter, whiskey barbecue salmon, and shrimp and crab scampi, among other dishes.
The event, she said, “is beneficial for advertising, and for many people to be able to find out about us.”
At the Red Room Cafe in Ventnor, participating since 2009, owner/manager Jack Gotta agreed: “We’re just trying to make people aware of what we do here,” he said.
Ram’s Head Inn general manager K. Afifi said that even though many end up holding off until Restaurant Week to try out a restaurant, quite a few return.
“With a lot of local people, it actually seems like they wait for this week to come out, and they go to a number of different restaurants,” Afifi said. “So we really put our best foot forward that week ... (And) we did notice last year that a few people were so impressed by the quality of food that they do end up coming back.”
The inn likes the concept so much, he added, that they extend it for another week, “for people who get stuck in their schedules and can’t hook up with friends and family.”
The event is certainly doing what it intended to do, said Greater Atlantic City Chamber President Joe Kelly — provide a strong tentpole for tourism during the winter season.
“I think anything we can do during a midweek in the offseason to stimulate visitation to the city and get visitors into restaurants is absolutely a good thing,” Kelly said. “And it’s nice that it’s taken on a bit of a tradition now after six years. It’s a stable, recognized event.”
And with the diners come the hotel stays.
“What we have going on right now is that hotel promotions include Restaurant Week in their package of dinner, entertainment and things to do,” said Atlantic City Alliance spokeswoman Melanie Sole. “So it’s a great deal, and at the same time you have hotel package deals going on.”
About 50 of the 83 participating restaurants are located at or are attached to a casino, including Village Whiskey at Revel — “You get such a good deal for lunch, $15 when you’re probably normally spening $30,” said service manager Julie McGowan — and Luke Palladino at Harrah’s.
“We should do maxed-out numbers every night,” said manager Joseph Bradley. “We don’t do it Saturday, but we do it every other day of the week. And we open on our regular days off, Wednesday and Thursday.”
But for restaurants such as the Sugar Hill Inn — the participating restaurant farthest from Atlantic City — the key is to make Restaurant Week such a deal for such good food, people are willing to hop in their cars.
“So we try to put such a value in our menu,” Boylan said. “We want to make it worth the drive.”
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