CHARLESTON — Restaurant Week South Carolina started three years ago to lure customers during the slowest time of year for the state’s $15 billion tourism industry, and it has proven a good deal both for diners and eateries across the state.
That first year in 2010, 109 restaurants statewide participated in the promotion sponsored by the South Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association. That number has more than doubled to 220 this year.
The success of the statewide January event has also prompted the launch of a second local restaurant week each September in Charleston.
The statewide event, which started Jan. 10, continues through Jan. 20. Participating restaurants can be found at www.restaurantweeksouthcarolina.com, the Restaurant Week website.
As in similar promotions in cities nationwide, diners can take advantage of special menu items and discounts at participating restaurants. Besides bringing in regular customers during a slow time, the promotions allow restaurants to attract new ones.
“It allows people to try a restaurant they have never tried,” said Douglas OFlaherty, the director of operations for the association. “Customers feel more comfortable walking into a place a second time rather than a first time. If we can get them in one time and they feel comfortable during restaurant week, chances are they are going to come back as a repeat customer.”
Indeed, the proprietors of one Charleston restaurant credit Restaurant Week with keeping them in business.
Halls Chophouse opened in the summer of 2009, when the nation was still reeling from the Great Recession, and about seven months before the first Restaurant Week.
“We opened in tough economic times,” said Tommy Hall, who with other members of his family runs the restaurant. “We were a new restaurant on upper King Street, and there wasn’t much up here. People were familiar with the Market, but not here. “
That first Restaurant Week, and the promotions offered by the restaurant, attracted new customers that proved the difference.
“It gave people a chance to say ‘let’s go try it,’” he said. “It was exposure to a new range of people that were perhaps intimidated to come to a fine dining, white tablecloth steakhouse. It gave us great exposure and was a defining moment and is why we are still here today.”
Hall’s brother Billy agreed: “People find out we have live music five nights a week and have a gospel brunch and it gives you a chance to showcase the restaurant.”
Halls Chophouse now stays busy during the 11-day event, and that’s also good news for the staff. Restaurants often tell their workers they have to take time off during January and September. Now, Halls is busy and the staff is excited because there’s plenty of work, Tommy Hall said.
The Restaurant and Lodging Association is analyzing state sales tax records to get a better idea of the impact of Restaurant Week.
Most restaurants offer discounts on regular menu items, and some use the week to try out new items they might add to menus later, OFlaherty said. But most don’t offer coupons or buy-one-get-one offers so that customers don’t treat it as a one-time visit.
“When you buy one and get one free you never want to pay full price again and you’re not going to come back unless you get something for free,” he said.