As restaurant week returns, DC spots continue their pandemic recovery

D.C.’s Summer Restaurant Week returns next week, and it is a chance for diners to not only try out new spots or revisit their favorites, but also continue to support local restaurants that are still recovering from the pandemic.

“This is a great time for D.C. residents and those in the region, and visitors from around the country to actually go into our restaurants and experience D.C. in a way they might not have before,” said Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development in D.C. John Falcicchio.

Falcicchio said the food service industry is recovering overall but numbers show there is still a way to go. One way to gauge where things are is through jobs in the industry in the District. In 2019, the city had about 54,000 food service jobs, according to Falcicchio. Those numbers were cut in half when restaurants were forced to close dining rooms during the height of the pandemic.

Today, while up, those numbers remain about 15,000 jobs shy of pre-pandemic levels.

“We still have a long way to go,” he said.

Another indicator, according to the deputy mayor, is how many visitors are coming to the District. D.C. saw a record 25 million tourists and business travelers in 2019. However, last year, the total was just over 18 million.

Finally, sales tax revenue still not to levels seen before the coronavirus also show the recovery is still underway.

Falcicchio said how well restaurants are doing depends on location, with COVID-19 shifting more people to patronizing the pub down the street from their home.

“Some neighborhood restaurants are actually faring as well or better than they were pre-pandemic,” he said.

But, in downtown D.C., where only 40% of the work crowd has returned to the office, restaurants, which once depended on the busy office lunch crowds, are not back to where they were before 2020.

“So, we’ve been trying to highlight things like Summer Restaurant Week as a great chance to maybe go back, reconnect with those you work with in the office,” Falcicchio said.

He added the hope is by Labor Day, the number of people who come into the office will rise even more. The city’s goal is to eventually get to a 75% utilization rate of buildings downtown.

He also said the city is also looking at how office buildings are being used, including changing some office spaces into residential spaces. It’s something that Falcicchio believes would in addition helping downtown business would also bring more tax revenue into the city.

“Because in addition to the property taxes, we would see more in sales taxes and more in residential income tax as well,” he said.

Converting buildings he said wouldn’t happen for every building, and would take time to do since buildings need to be re-imagined to provide living spaces.

“Not all of our office buildings are prime for conversions residential. Their floor plate may make it challenging, they may be midblock and not have enough sort of window access to that direct light that you need to create a bedroom space on the interior of the building,” said Falcicchio.

In the meantime, he believes programs like Summer Restaurant Week will help spur business and bring people into town who may not have come to D.C. to eat out otherwise.

This year, more than 160 restaurants in the D.C. region are participating in the event organized by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington. Summer Restaurant Week runs from Monday, Aug. 15 through Sunday, Aug. 21. Lunch will cost $25 with both a $40 and $55 dinner option.

Learn more at the event’s official website.

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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