First Fall Restaurant Week Achieving Goal

OCEAN CITY – Local restaurants are pulling for a strong weekend showing from diners before they call the first-ever “Fall OC Restaurant Week” an overall success.

As of yesterday, an overwhelming majority of the restaurants involved in the third installment of the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association event have seen their numbers at least “on pace” with the past events, but all are depending on a strong weekend before they really gauge how beneficial it actually was to their overall bottom line.

“I think it would be a bit confusing to gauge the success right away, as it falls on a holiday weekend, which the numbers are usually pretty good anyway,” said Roger Cebula, owner of Galaxy 66 Bar and Grille. “This event has always been really strong for us, and it’s absolutely great for Ocean City.”

Most restaurants alluded to the Columbus Day weekend being one of the “last big weekends” before the annual off-season drop-off in business and hoped that being involved in the OCHMRA’s event, which has been successful in the past, would help give numbers an extra “shot in the arm.”

Gary Beach, owner of the Marlin Moon Grille in West Ocean City, has seen a tremendous boost in business in the event’s first few days and equates being “busy as hell” to the bargain provided by the special.

“I think it’s the deal itself that is so appealing. In these times, people need a bargain, and that’s what this is. I think [the event] is promoted well and it brings out a lot of new faces that wouldn’t try our restaurant otherwise.”

Restaurant week was last run in June and seemed to be most successful for the restaurants with higher entrée price-points, meaning that for restaurants with entrees usually in the $20 to $30 range, being involved in a three-course-for-$30 special like the one offered during restaurant week, seemed to be comparative hotspots.

Some restaurants, however, like Fresco’s on 82nd Street opted out of certain nights in the restaurant week as the special could take seats away from normal diners.

Karen Tomasello, co-owner of Fresco’s, said that “we’ve seen a nice increase in business so far this week, at least 25 percent so far, and we’re expecting a strong weekend. We opted out of Saturday night because we are so busy on Saturday nights, it just didn’t really make sense.”

Picking and choosing which nights to be involved may ruffle some feathers, but economically from Fresco’s point of view, whose average check total is $45 per person, according to Tomasello, one could understand their rationale.

Horizons restaurant inside the Clarion Resort on 101st Street only does a small percentage of its regular food business during restaurant week, mainly, according to dining manager Quentin Mellinger, “because we run the very popular all-you-can-eat seafood buffet on the weekends. We’ve seen a few people during the week, but it isn’t a huge thing for us other than to get our name out there and help promote Ocean City restaurants.”

Most mid-priced restaurants like BJ’s on 75th Street have seen their numbers stay “pretty much the same” as past events, and while some of the higher-priced restaurants like the Marlin Moon Grille are seeing some sizeable boosts in “during the week” business.

Either way, “the word is getting out there, and people are coming in and asking about restaurant week, which is a good sign”, said BJ’s General Manager Jeff Mushrush.

Many restaurants like The Shark in West Ocean City have adopted slight variations to the standard three-course-for-$30 deal and implemented them throughout the off-season.

“So far for us, it’s been a bit softer than the spring, but I think people are awfully jittery about this economy too, said Travis Wright, owner of the Shark, “but I think as always, everyone is just hoping for a strong weekend.”