College Park is the latest jurisdiction to launch what has become an ubiquitous marketing tactic: the restaurant week.
The first annual College Park Restaurant Week, in which local restaurants will offer a variety of food and drink specials, begins Sunday and runs through Aug. 17.
(At just eight days long, the campaign comes fairly close to actually staying true to its name. Many of the dozens of other summer and winter restaurant weeks held throughout the state are more like 14 days long.)
Rather than the usual format of offering prix-fixe three-course dinners (and two-course lunches, in many cases), College Park Restaurant Week takes a more general approach. It’s up to the restaurants to choose the pricing structure — and it varies widely.
Also, College Park Restaurant Week has fewer participants (16 restaurants) than most of the others. That’s to be expected for an inaugural year — and for an unapologetically college-y college town that boasts ample quick-service options but a select few choices for fine dining.
That last comment should not be interpreted as mocking; As a Terp, I frequented plenty of top-notch, casual eateries. There’s Marathon Deli, with the always-satisfying gyro platter; Plato’s Diner, where literally anything is delicious at any time of day; Hanami Japanese Restaurant and Kiyoko Express with awesome and affordable sushi; Bagel Place for all manner of heavenly creations….I’m getting carried away here (and pretty hungry, too).
But it has come to my attention (thanks to The Gazette) that my characterization of College Park’s food scene might be outdated, because in addition to its vast assortment of casual eateries, there are also a number of nicer, sit-down restaurants.
And apparently, economic development officials believe enough of these establishments have now moved into the area to warrant taking a stab at the restaurant week promotion.
One of the participating establishments I didn’t recognize is The Common, a new restaurant/pub in the recently renovated Marriott Inn and Conference Center hotel near the University of Maryland campus. For the promotion, The Common is offering discounts for all three meals of the day.
The “All American Breakfast Buffet” for two people costs $14.95 (compared to $29.95 regularly). Lunch is the sandwich of the day with a drink, fries and mini-dessert for $10 (regularly $15). For dinner, a three-course meal for two people costs $40, compared to the regular price of $73.
The Calvert House Inn, though not new (it’s been around since 1963), is one of the area’s pricier, more upscale restaurants, serving seafood, pasta, steaks and more. Its Restaurant Week menu is one of the best deals on the list (though it’s not available Friday or Saturday night) — $14.95 for a three-course dinner, with entree options such as shrimp and scallop tortellini or the catch of the day.
The majority of participants, however, are casual spots that aren’t particularly exciting. Some have been around for years; others are newcomers. Several are bars, such as Big Play Sports Grill, which opened in April 2012 and will offer a three-course meal for $18.50 during the promotion.
Interestingly, several of the restaurants I would expect to participate are not. Franklin’s Restaurant, Brewery and General Store is technically Hyattsville, a couple miles down Route 1 from College Park. Owner Mike Franklin said he was invited to participate in restaurant week but declined.
“It just wasn’t a good match,” he said. “The parameters they gave us weren’t that easy for us to do. We’re not set up to offer a fixed three-course dinner. It just seemed like too much trouble for what it’s worth.”
Franklin said he wishes the organizers well but isn’t sure Restaurant Week is the right strategy for the College Park dining scene. He said his restaurant and many others try to be affordable and accessible year-round, rather than offer specials at certain times.
I suspect Franklin and other, local restaurateurs think this promotion won’t be as enticing to consumers as it is in other regions, where people sometimes wait until Restaurant Week to experience expensive, trendy restaurants that are otherwise out of their price range.
What restaurants would you like to see participate in College Park Restaurant Week? What are your experiences with restaurant weeks elsewhere in Maryland?