OC Restaurant Week Eyes Seasonal Business Surge

Joanne Shriner
Staff Writer

OCEAN CITY – A highly anticipated time of year is approaching in Ocean City, as Restaurant Week returns Sunday with the goal of satisfying all sorts of appetites.

According to Susan Jones, executive director of the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association, the concept of a Restaurant Week began in 1992 in New York City. At this time, the Democratic National Convention was in town and the city wanted to create a fixed-price menu for $19.92, to represent the year. Since then, other cities have picked up on the prix fixe menu and now they are popular around the country.

Restaurant Week, which originally took place in June in the resort area, was such a success that it became apparent it should be more then once a year.

“Due to the event’s success and the request from past diners, we thought we should organize the event twice a year,” said Jones. “This is actually our third fall … time flies when you’re having fun.”

Having it in the fall benefits restaurants because it brings in more business as the busy season slows down around town.

“The whole purpose behind the promotion is to create business for the restaurants and to stir the local economy,” Jones said. “In the summer time, we chose a week that is not so busy and that’s the same thing we’re doing now. Were trying to do it at an off-peak time to get them business.”

Chef Paul Bryan of the Horizons Oceanfront Restaurant at the Clarion Resort says he thinks the fall edition of the event is more successful than its summer counterpart.

“It is right after the busy season and a lot of people who are serious diners like to take their time,” Bryan said. “When they come in, they are able to experience it without it being hectic. It allows a diner to come in, sit down, and taste the food,” Bryan said. “They can check out the presentation and it also allows them to go to other restaurants in Ocean City and experience their cuisine.”

According to Jones, Restaurant Week is a joint venture between the association and the restaurant members. The restaurants offer a two-course meal for $20 and a three-course meal for $30. The association does all the marketing and outreach to the restaurant diners and then the restaurants provide the association a creative menu.

Pino Tomasello, owner and executive chef of Fresco’s, has participated in Restaurant Week since it was first introduced in Ocean City.

“We participate to give the opportunity for new customers to try our restaurant and introduce something new,” he said. “I’ve noticed people are looking to come in for a great special. We make an effort to be worthwhile for someone to travel a distance and to get a good deal out of it.”

It isn’t always about the quantity of people coming into the restaurant, but also the quality of the food presented, Tomasello pointed out.

“I would never cut the quality,” he said. “I always buy what I believe is the best.”

Having Restaurant Week in the fall also allows the restaurants to create a menu that is parallel with the season’s fresh ingredients.

“A lot of our fall items are under fall presentation,” said Bryan. “We are using a lot of fall ingredients, such as, butternut squash, earthy vegetables, zucchini, snow peas, broccoli rabe, things of that nature.”

The promotion benefits both the customer and the restaurant, according to Jones.

“It is a good in regards to the diner in that it gives them an opportunity to try a restaurant that they haven’t tried before,” Jones said. “Also, for people who are a little leery to try fine dining because they think it may break the bank, it gives them a chance to try a creative menu at a affordable price. … I think this kind of price point seems to work really well and I think the diners like it because they know what there spending before they sit down.”

According to Tomasello, his customers are grateful for the portion size they receive for the price.

“Just because it is $30 doesn’t mean we make the portions small,” he said. “I give the same portion as if it is off the regular menu.”

Tomasello added that diners say that they should do it longer. Fresco’s and Horizons have gone ahead and offered the prix fixe menu on and off throughout the winter season.

“It’s off-season and people are always looking for a deal,” Tomasello said.

“The feedback has been very positive,” Bryan said. “The people who are experiencing it for the first or second time have always come back. It has always been on a positive, upbeat note.”

Restaurant Week begins Sunday, Oct. 17 and ends the following Sunday, Oct. 24.

“I enjoy doing it every year and I am looking forward to see customers come back,” Tomasello said.

Bryan said he anticipates another successful event.

“We are looking forward to a successful restaurant week,” Bryan said. “It had been proven in the past that it is a good thing for us.”

Jones feels that the success of restaurant week should be available to all restaurants, no matter the size or price range.

“Next year we plan on tweaking a few things for the smaller restaurants,” Jones said. “Those who aren’t quite at the $20 or $30 price range. We might do a $10 or $20 price point.”

Visit  HYPERLINK "http://www.oceancityrestaurantweek.com" www.oceancityrestaurantweek.com to see participating restaurants.