By Askya Alexander
Howard University News Service
January is often viewed as a month for new beginnings. While some people look forward to the changes a new year brings, others anticipate the return of an old favorite: the highly anticipated Winter Restaurant Week!
The Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington hosted the first leg of this year’s dining scene celebration from Jan. 16 to 22. Participating restaurants offered multi-course brunch and lunch menus for $25 per person, and multi-course dinner menus for $40 or $55 per person for on-premises dining. This week-long promotion, which occurs two times a year, gives those in the District the opportunity to experience new flavors, explore restaurants in different neighborhoods, or visit old favorites, all without breaking the bank.
However, in the midst of this celebratory time, restaurants in the D.C. area continue to grapple with the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to a drought of funds to keep each business afloat, at least 48 notable restaurant closures were announced in 2022, compared to 40 in 2021. If these economic challenges persist in the new year, it could lead to more closings by the end of 2023.
At this particularly vulnerable time for local businesses, Winter Restaurant Week is a tradition that is important now more than ever. It is not only an opportunity for patrons to try something new but also for the 270 participating restaurants to win back customers and attract new ones.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser released a statement as her office and the Restaurant Association encouraged residents to support local establishments during the promotion.
“Winter Restaurant Week is a tradition that Washingtonians and businesses owners look forward to every year,” Deputy Mayor John Falcicchio said. “Restaurant Week is more than a week-long promotion. It is an opportunity to reconnect with friends over a meal at some of the best restaurants in the city while supporting local restaurants that serve as economic drivers for our city.”
Several representatives at participating establishments stressed the importance of Restaurant Week for the local economy and community.
“We’ve been participating since 2017, and Restaurant Week came to be as a way to kind of give visibility to restaurants in slower periods of the year,” said Jonathan Cazana, operations manager of Unconventional Diner.
“Sometimes they’ll do promotions for other periods of time where maybe restaurants at large are looking to be busier in what are traditionally slow periods,” Cazana said. “And at the end of the day, I think that’s not the reason we’re doing it. It is just a fun thing, and people really like it. It is a way to kind of engage with the community and do something a little bit different outside of our normal operation.”
Cazana thinks that Restaurant Week encourages friendly competition between favored spots in the area while forcing everyone within that industry to put their best foot forward.
From his expansive background with high-volume restaurants and other eateries, Cazana has worked in a variety of markets where Restaurant Week was viewed as an afterthought. And yet, he sees something different in the D.C. metropolitan area.
Cazana says that these two weeks throughout the year present a very distinct opportunity, for restaurant goers and connoisseurs alike, as it spurs innovative techniques beyond traditional services.
“I think it just doesn’t really compare to other traditional marketing techniques,” he said. “We’ll run our own specials or try some things seasonally or do some things according to holiday, but it really is its own niche.”
Askya Alexander is a reporter for HUNewsService.com and writes about culture.
Brickstones Kitchen and Bar, Ellington Park Bistro, EME Cafe & Bar, Fava Pot, JACKIE American Bistro, Le Clou, LIMA-Twist, Mi Vida 14th, Nama Ko, New Heights, Quattro Osteria, Rosemary Bistro Cafe, Surveyor, Takara 14, Tiki on 18th, Vagabond Kitchen and Bar, Wiseguy Pizza (Capitol Riverfront and Downtown), Yardbird and City Cruises.