Restaurant Week is a twice-a-year chance to sample some of the D.C. area’s most coveted dining spots from special fixed-price menus.
But amid the coronavirus pandemic, when indoor dining rooms have only recently reopened across the region, the two most important words in the restaurant scene aren’t necessarily prix fixe — they’re “to go.”
But never fear, foodies: D.C.’s official Summer Restaurant Week, as well as separate promotional dining events in Alexandria and Fairfax City, are set to kick off starting later this month, and they are fully embracing the takeout trend.
For the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, which arranges the big D.C. event, organizers hope it could end up being a lifeline for a restaurant industry battered by the pandemic, and they’ve extended the typical seven-day affair into a full two weeks.
“What we have been hearing from restaurants across the region is that now, more than ever, they need the support from diners,” Kathy Hollinger, president and CEO of the restaurant association, told WTOP in an interview.
Here’s a look at what to expect with Restaurant Weeks around the region.
DC Restaurant Week: Staying flexible
The Metropolitan Washington Restaurant Week is the largest of the restaurant promotion events this summer. This year, the event runs from Aug. 17 through 31.
So far, more than 200 restaurants across the entire D.C. region have signed up to offer promotions, according to the restaurant association. That’s about on par with last year, Hollinger said.
Multi-course brunch and lunch menus start at $22 per person. Dinner menus will be offered at price points of $35 and $55 per person. You can find a list of participating restaurants as well as search by neighborhood on the restaurant association website.
In addition, dinners ordered to-go come with a special discount if you order multiple meals: You can get two of the $35 meals for $60 and four for $130.
“That was really designed to allow for people who want to be a part of Restaurant Week to be able to pick up a family meal to go and maybe dine al fresco with some friends in their front yard,” Hollinger said, adding: “People are not necessarily dining out the way they once were, but they are dining out.”
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Some restaurants participating in the promotion are offering dine-in menus. But others are offering takeout only.
Flexibility — and understanding what diners feel safe doing — was key to rolling out this year’s summer event, Hollinger said, especially since restaurant dining rooms across D.C., Maryland and Northern Virginia only recently reopened at limited capacity.
And if rising coronavirus cases lead D.C. or any of the surrounding jurisdictions to clamp down on indoor dining once again, Restaurant Week can still go ahead with its takeout-only options, she said.
“We have been preparing our restaurant community to always be in a position to dial back or dial up,” Hollinger said.
Even though coronavirus reopening guidelines across the D.C area now allow indoor dining, that doesn’t mean every restaurant is in a position to throw their doors back open.
“Many times, it makes sense that restaurants stay in Phase One, which is only takeout and delivery and outdoor dining,” Hollinger said. “I mean, it really comes down to the financials.”
Overall, about 40% of D.C. restaurants have still not opened their indoor dining rooms, Hollinger said.
“It’s been brutal,” Hollinger said of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the District’s once-burgeoning food scene.
Only last December, Bloomberg called D.C., “the most exciting food city in America.”
Still, the restaurant industry is resilient, and Restaurant Week, itself, was actually “born from crisis,” Hollinger said.
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, when many people avoided public gatherings, D.C. and New York both launched their now regular twice-a-year Restaurant Weeks to boost the struggling restaurant industry.
Alexandria goes fully to-go
Alexandria, which debuted its first Restaurant Week in 2009, is going entirely takeout this year. More than 60 restaurants are taking part between Aug. 21-30.
“The big change for us this year was to change the format from a traditional Restaurant Week to focus on ‘to-go,’ to be sensitive to what consumers are looking for and what’s good for the community, as well,” said Tom Kaiden, chief operating officer of Visit Alexandria, which organizes the event.
When Kaiden and his team began planning for the event earlier this year, he put together a “kitchen cabinet” of Alexandria’s top restaurateurs “across the spectrum in terms of the style of menu to help us think through what would be the best experience for guests,” he said.
Organizers settled on a $49 takeout dinner for two deal. Some of the restaurants are also offering beer and specialty cocktails as part of the menu.
“The idea was … to make sure it was sort of a great value for consumers, but also a way for restaurants to build back up revenue, obviously in a time when it’s really challenging,” Kaiden said.
“The to-go experience really gives people a chance to sample the breadth of Alexandria over this 10 days.”
You can search for participating restaurants and browse their Restaurant Week menus on the Visit Alexandria website.
Kaiden said he hopes the community comes together to support Alexandria’s restaurant scene, noting several restaurants, such as Cheesetique, Spice Kraft Indian Bistro, Taqueria Picoso and Yunnan by Potomac Noodle House have provided free meals to hospital workers and first responders during the pandemic.
“At a time when they’re experiencing hardship, they have reached even deeper themselves to try to foster the strength of the community,” Kaiden said.
Next month: Fairfax City Restaurant Week
Next month, Fairfax City is also offering a to-go twist on its Restaurant Week, which runs from Sept. 13-20.
“As the week-long program moves forward this year its focus will be on the return, recovery, and support of the city’s independent dining establishments,” organizers said in a news release.
Participating restaurants will offer three-course lunch and brunch menus at $35 and $20 per-person, available for both dine-in and takeout meals.
You can see a list of participating restaurants online.
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