For the past year and a half, Moffly Media, a Fairfield County, Connecticut lifestyle resource and media company located in beautiful and bountiful Greenwich, CT has been organizing Greenwich Restaurant Week.
The 4th annual 10-day celebration, which runs from October 27 to November 5 will focus on Greenwich’s upscale dining scene along with the restaurateurs and chefs who set the stage for culinary adventure and dedicate their services and talents to this community. Several CT based Wine and Spirit distributors, along with a few of Fairfield County’s most prestige hotels are also part of the 10-day celebration. Total Food Service recently sat down with Greenwich Restaurant Week director, Trish Kirsch, and Publisher of Greenwich Magazine, to learn more about organization of this annual restaurant week, how restaurants benefit, and how it help local businesses.
Walk us through the history and idea behind Greenwich Restaurant Week. How and why did you get involved in restaurant week and how has it changed for this year?
Jen Danzi, a former employee of our company, a friend to us and a marketer in Greenwich and the surrounding area, started Greenwich Restaurant Week and ran it for two years. She saw a need in the marketplace and is a savvy marketer and loves our town. When she was ready to pursue other business ventures, she asked if we would like to take it over. For me, Greenwich Restaurant Week is celebrating our amazing town and the whole culinary experience. That includes hopefully introducing people to our town who may not have usually come to Greenwich, or as often; learn about our many pockets of town, The Avenue (Greenwich Avenue), the amazing shopping. Being the town magazine for 70 years this year, we feel a great responsibility to propping our town up and highlighting what is great about it, and celebrating it. When there was threat that this celebration may go away, our company stepped in.
TAG – the Transportation Association of Greenwich, receives a portion of the proceeds from our Opening Night Party, so that is something we want to say right off the bat is important to Restaurant Week. We also encourage anyone to give anything they can to this amazing non-profit, who provides free safe rides to teens in town on weekends, and drives our elderly in town to any appointments they need. It is an amazing reason to live in Greenwich, and everything they raise goes right into the needs they have for their cars and vans, and gas and insurance for those.
When establishing and scheduling Restaurant Week, how are the dates chosen? Is business slow during the chosen week of the year?
We really took the lead of the original two years. We didn’t want to come in and shake things up, right when the market was just understanding and embracing it. It takes a while to ramp events like these up and make sure the community wraps their arms around it, and that was the definitely the case with this when we took it over.
Greenwich’s calendar is a packed one, with thousands of functions, and this particular week is right at the end of the fall fundraiser high-time, and before the holiday onslaught with work, family, holiday events – so it was good timing for keeping it. And we had to keep in timing with our company roster, where we juggle many huge signature events like Best of Greenwich, the A-List Awards, Best Bartender, Light a Fire. It fell at a great time on all of these fronts. We were excited for the timing in the restaurant week history because we could take the momentum that had been built in the previous two years, and then use our company power to send this message to everyone in Fairfield County since we own five other titles like Stamford Magazine and Westport Magazine. So we wanted to keep it as similar as possible to its history in the market, while making it better and gaining it more press.
That being said, restaurateurs have asked me personally if we will move it in future years to a time when business is slower – January. That is in discussion for either next year, or the following. For right now, we have most restaurants signed on and excited.
Do all participating restaurants follow the same guidelines regarding a set price? How does that work with a low and high-end restaurant?
My hope when my company handed it over to our team was that we would have price “buckets” the restaurants would fall into, similar to New York Restaurant Week. While we had been warned this was a near impossible task, I wanted to because, well, I just tend to be hopeful, and I wanted to make it easier for the customer to understand. But if you have five restaurants right on Greenwich Avenue that won’t participate because of that, or are disagreeing over the price points, we had to be a little flexible and work with them. We want to be. So we ask they do an amazing prix fixe but leave it up to them.
My office is sick of me saying, “If we have no restaurants, there is no Greenwich Restaurant Week.” So this is the first cog in the wheel to make the whole thing happen – and if we have nine restaurants as opposed to 30 participating, well, people won’t turn up in town excited. The first few years the organizer had trouble even making sure the restaurants were doing what they said – and especially with their restaurant staff at the front of the house knowing about it.
For me, communicating consistently through emails to the restaurants before the event really helped. I sent reminders to set their specials, reminders to have staff meetings so all waiters and staff were knowledgeable, told them it was time to print their menu specials. So we came a long way this year. We didn’t have any complaints this past year, so that was huge growth.
And while there were not three prix-fixe buckets as I hoped, establishments really stepped up to give customers something special. Look, in the end, they are the ones display. What they offer will entice people back, or not. And I think for the most part they did an excellent job last year, and we will make it even better this year promoting it on our part, and they will by offering amazing culinary specials.
You hold an Opening Night Party for the kickoff of the 10-day event. This year it is Thursday, October 26th 6-9pm at J House. What happens there?
Opening Night Party is a kickoff celebration of the whole week. Some of the participating restaurants that will be doing specials come (it is up to them to sign up, it is not mandatory), and we throw a DJ party to taste everyone’s great servings. With over 500 people there, it’s a great venue for chefs to display their talents with small bites and lure customers either back in, to come for the first time, and choose their place as one of the hopefully many stops you make during the 10-day celebration. We also have wine retailers, liquor distributors and owners, all trying to showcase themselves to both customers, but also to the chefs and restaurant staff. Plus, the alcohol makes for a great party – it is flowing.
What other partners and sponsors besides restaurants are a big part of making Greenwich Restaurant Week so successful and why?
Our media partners like you! We have other great media sponsors, which are important. The Sentinel – important because they reach so many people in town with their good news, and also see the strength in celebrating the town and our people. NYCWFF is the Wine and Food Festival owned by The Food Network. They link to us on their site and promote us, because they know that their audience will like what we are doing too, and that’s certainly having a stamp of approval working with The Food Networks’ own event.
This year we also have a partnership with OpenTable. Last year they took a wait-and-see approach, since we were in a growth phase, and this year they were happy to come on based on it’s strength last year. I would estimate four times the people will see it through E-Blasts as last year because of this partnership, so I am grateful for that. CTBites, ctrestaurantweek.com, all-important partners.
We have corporate sponsors which help make this event happen, and are all gratefully listed on our website and will be in the special section all about Greenwich Restaurant Week in the October Food issue, our September 27th. And present at Opening Night Party. Their objective is to help the town, help us, and be a part of the celebration and reach this amazing audience.
There are some notable Greenwich restaurants that might not have a need for promotions or to offer special prix fixe menus, but still chose to participate. Is it to recognize the common good Restaurant week offers? What’s in it for them?
First, I would say – if you love your town and love your customers, it is good for all. It is a town-wide celebration and therefore something you should embrace.
Secondly, I would say – I know this to be true. We are not naive. But the basic sense of the idea is to promote going out, being out, and more than usual. Would you have eaten out one time that week? Then go out for a girls night or guys night out too in that 10-day period. That’s not hard! People want an excuse to do that! Would you have bought your co-workers lunch? Or decided to book a party room you wouldn’t have usually?
We want the community out and celebrating us. Then, there’s the element of – have you wanted to try two new restaurants in Greenwich but live in Scarsdale, Bedford, Armonk, Rye, Westport, Stamford, Fairfield – but you keep putting it off? We are encouraging that too. Don’t put it off any longer. This is the time to try it. And then maybe they get a regular who doesn’t put it off as much.
Restaurants that embraced it, despite not needing to have prix-fixes and are regularly busy were surprisingly fierce about how great it became last year. When they really embraced it, by say doing a $19.99 unheard-of before prix fixe, they were booked nonstop opening to close. Could they have said, we didn’t need to? Sure. But instead they said – Wow. People came to try us who usually just use us for special occasions. And they bought four glasses of champagne too, so the prices were not low. And now, they come back all the time because they see getting a piece of fish and a glass of wine with us is not just for special occasions. So if you embrace it, and see the positive, and celebrate, it all becomes good.
Restaurants are not the only businesses to benefit from Greenwich Restaurant Week. Explain how Restaurant Week helps with local tourism and how local hotels and retail shops also benefit.
We are hoping by propping the culinary highlights in town for 10 days that this affects everything – shopping, hotels, everything. In fact, greenwichrestaurantweek.com has a hotel section in the website solely as a service to people who want to come visit and use this as their occasion. This would be the whole idea. Come to Greenwich!
Greenwich Restaurant Week: Friday, October 27th – November 5th
Opening Night Party – J House Thursday October 26th, 6-9pm
To learn more about Greenwich Restaurant Week, visit their website.
Greenwich Magazine’s October Food issue with Restaurant Week section, out Sept 27th