The Savor Sandy Springs Restaurant Week, returning Nov. 2-8 for its second year, is one of many similar promotions boosting the dining business around the Perimeter and the nation. But there’s something special about the group organizing it, the Sandy Springs Restaurant Council, and about how Restaurant Week fits into its much bigger business plan.
An initiative of the Sandy Springs/Perimeter Chamber of Commerce, the Restaurant Council hosts expert speakers at monthly meetings and is organizing quarterly public events with the goal of putting the city on the metro Atlanta fine-dining map.
The Restaurant Council model could become influential amid talk of Dunwoody and Sandy Springs possibly collaborating on future Restaurant Weeks, and as the young city of Brookhaven considers creating its own.
“Basically, the purpose of the Restaurant Council is to make Sandy Springs a fine-dining destination,” said Karen Trylovich, the council’s chair. “People go down Ga. 400 to get to Buckhead and bypass Sandy Springs … when we have over 500 restaurants in Sandy Springs.”
The council made a splash in August with its new football season cook-out party that drew hundreds of customers. At a recent council meeting, Jason Sheetz, the owner of the Hammocks Trading Company restaurant, praised the group’s model.
“We have massive momentum,” Sheetz said, adding that with its Restaurant Week program, “You can absolutely see the increase in business year-to-year.”
Restaurants Weeks are a collaborative promotion where various restaurants offer special menus with fixed prices. They are typically organized by either a private promotional company, as in Buckhead’s five-year-old Restaurant Week, or by the local Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, as in Dunwoody. The goal is usually a modest one: boosting business during a traditionally slow week.
“It’s a unique way for residents and visitors to try restaurants they wouldn’t try otherwise, and to try them at a fixed price point,” said Katie Bishop, executive director of the Dunwoody CVB, which has organized a Restaurant Week in collaboration with the city and the Dunwoody Perimeter Chamber each June since 2011. This year’s Dunwoody Restaurant Week had 17 restaurants offering lunch menus and 24 offering dinner menus.
Dunwoody copied the Restaurant Week idea from other places, Bishop said, but the CVB has tried some homegrown efforts, too. One example was the “Wine-ing About Winter” event, running in January of 2013 and 2014, with restaurants offering discounted meals or bottles of wine during a dead-of-winter week. “We just want to affect the bottom line that week,” Bishop said. “We’re just trying to drive business into what is a slower week for restaurants.”
She and other Restaurant Week organizers acknowledge that measuring the impact is difficult. “Each restaurant owner has their own way of doing things,” said Trylovich, “so it’s really hard to know what that impact is.”
The debut Georgia Restaurant Week, a statewide event in July arranged by the Buckhead-based Georgia Restaurant Association, in collaboration with the state Department of Economic Development, shows how the measurements can be tricky. At first glance, an association report looks pretty good: total sales over $900,000; 500 meals ordered from the special menus; 42 percent of customers showing up to try a new restaurant and 81 percent “highly likely” to return.
But with 96 participating restaurants, that means each location sold less than one Restaurant Week menu meal per day. The sales figure includes all restaurant revenue, not just any above-average bump that week. And only 35 customers responded to the survey.
Thirty percent of the restaurants saw a business boost, said association spokeswoman Melanie Charyton. She emphasized it was the statewide Restaurant Week’s first year, adding that “we hope to build on this next year and create more revenue for our restaurants.”
The Sandy Springs Restaurant Council is aiming beyond the quick-hit Restaurant Week model to brand the city as a dining hotspot like Buckhead or Midtown. The council formed in late 2013 when Mayor Rusty Paul was serving as the Chamber’s board chair and heard the call for more restaurant promotions. “As far as greater Atlanta is concerned, Sandy Springs is a restaurant desert,” Paul said at a recent City Council meeting about the Restaurant Council effort.
About 15 people attended a recent council meeting at Seven Hens, including restaurant owners and representatives from the city, the chamber and the Perimeter Center Improvement Districts. One agenda item was the Restaurant Week’s cross-promotion with an older tradition, the Sandy Springs Society’s Elegant Elf event. (Several restaurants will serve “Elf-tini” cocktails.)
“It’s been collaborative amongst us. It’s not a competitive thing,” said Tisha Rosamond of Nothing Bundt Cakes, describing the council as a “partnership as well as friendship.”
Barbara Boukater, whose 5 Seasons Brewing hosted the football kickoff event, said the collaboration is “driving home that this is a neighborhood effort. Keep it in Sandy Springs.”