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Restaurant Week prices are down

Baltimore’s Restaurant Week just got more affordable as prices for the semiannual prix fixe dining promotion dropped for the first time in years.

L To R- B&O American Brasserie General Manager Marcus Garner and Executive Chef Thomas Dunklin

Last year, diners paid $35.11 for a three-course dinner and $20.11 for a three-course lunch. This year, restaurants had the option of offering either a $30.12 or $20.12 three-course dinner and a $15.12 two-course lunch.

Restaurant Week, which happens in both winter and summer, starts Friday and runs through Jan. 29.

“It’s a better bargain than it’s ever been,” said Tom Noonan, president and CEO of Visit Baltimore, the city’s tourism agency. “We’re trying to get rid of any hurdles.”

The price changes came as a result of feedback from diners and restaurants, Noonan said. This is the fourth year Visit Baltimore and the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore have organized the winter promotion.

Haluk Kantar, owner of Cazbar on North Charles Street, said he was pleased to see the $20 dinner option. While his restaurant is offering both a $30 and $20 menu, he said they are emphasizing the cheaper option.

“The holidays are over and people are generally more price-conscious right now,” Kantar said.

The $20 price makes more sense for his restaurant, which has an average entrée price of $16, he said.

“Getting a three-course for $20 becomes a really good deal. At $30, it’s pretty close to what they would get ordering off the menu,” he said.

Marshall Weston Jr., president and CEO of the Restaurant Association of Maryland, said he has heard from Restaurant Week participants that sales increase from 10 to 25 percent during the promotional period, as compared to a corresponding week.

“The ultimate goal for a restaurant is for people to come in, try their restaurant, and then come back and be a repeat customer,” he said.

Some establishments go beyond the set Restaurant Week to make that happen.

At the B&O American Brasserie, General Manager Marcus Garner said the restaurant will offer the fixed-price dinner menu for a second week, pairing it with a “winter white sale,” where diners will be able to purchase bottles of white wine and champagne for nearly half their normal price. Any diners who have participated in Restaurant Week will get a 25 percent discount if they return in February.

“Once you get them, you want them to keep coming back,” Garner said.

Restaurant weeks are also happening this month in Baltimore and Howard counties and in Bethesda-Chevy Chase.

Bethesda’s week of fixed-price dining starts Monday and runs through Jan. 29. Area restaurants will offer two-course lunches from $12 to $16 and three-course dinners from $30 to $33.

Baltimore and Howard counties have already started their winter dining promotion.

Baltimore County’s Restaurant Week started on Jan. 12 and ends Saturday, with restaurants able to opt in for lunch and dinner prix fixe menus ranging from $10.12 to $35.12.

Brian Boston, chef and owner of The Milton Inn in Sparks, organized Baltimore County’s first Restaurant Week in summer 2010, before getting the Baltimore County Office of Tourism and the Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce involved last winter. Though previous Restaurant Weeks spanned 15 days, this time, the promotion lasts for 10.

“The two weeks was just a little too long,” Boston said. “It creates a little more urgency when people have to do that in 10 days. We’re seeing very good results this time around.”

But in Howard County, diners will still get two weeks of meals ranging from $10.12 to $40.12.

The two-week promotion comes from “popular demand” from participating restaurants and is especially important in the winter “in case Mother Nature was going to do a little something,” said Rachelina Bonacci, executive director of Howard County Tourism Inc.

Howard County’s Restaurant Week started Jan. 16 and runs through Jan. 30.