Between Jan. 13 and 18, more than 50 eateries around the city featured tasting menus to celebrate the 10th Ann Arbor Restaurant Week. Organized by the Main Street Area Association, the biannual event is an opportunity for Ann Arbor locals and students to sample dishes that the city has to offer at a low price. Most restaurants offer lunch options for $15 with multiple courses and a $28 three course dinner menu, with roughly half the participating dinner destinations enticing customers with a two-for-one deal. Restaurants participating ranged from more expensive establishments such as Black Pearl and Pacific Rim to more casual spots like The Original Cottage Inn and Afternoon Delight.
Adam Baru, owner and operator of three Ann Arbor establishments — Mani Osteria, Isalita and most recently, Mikette — said although Restaurant Week does not typically generate as much revenue at his restaurants as normal nights, it is a useful marketing tool, which helps to attract new customers and provide current eaters with more affordable options.
“I’ve always looked at Restaurant Week (as) one of the biggest opportunities to market the restaurants and to expose people who don’t know about them because there are still many people who have never eaten at some of our restaurants, so it’s a great opportunity for them to come in,” Baru said. “But it is also for people who do know about it to try things that they typically wouldn’t because (of) the value of the promotion.”
Baru said the winter Restaurant Week is generally more successful than the event’s summer week because of the vast presence of students in the Ann Arbor community.
“The January Restaurant Week is always the most popular and one of the reasons why is because the students are here whereas in the summer they are not often times,” Baru said. “It’s a great deal to be able to do this for not only people who live in town, but also this massive community that is the University … We want to make it a pretty low barrier entry, so whether you are a student or you are a family who maybe doesn’t dine out so often.”
Kinesiology senior Paulina Vokulich, who ate at Slurping Turtle and Pacific Rim by Kana during the week, agreed with Baru’s sentiments about the increased affordability of dining out during Restaurant Week and said she thoroughly appreciates the event for that very reason.
“It’s definitely nice for the students to go out and have a more affordable experience at a lot of places,” Vokulich said.
LSA sophomore Allison Weisenfeld is the marketing director of the U-M branch of Spoon University, a college student-run food publication. Weisenfeld echoed Vokulich’s excitement regarding Restaurant Week.
“I think it’s a really awesome opportunity to get students to really go out and explore new restaurants in Ann Arbor because a lot of time students feel like they are too busy or don’t want to go out for financial or education reasons, but it gives them an excuse to try new restaurants and explore the downtown area,” Vokulich said.
Weisenfeld explained she dined at several Ann Arbor eateries this past Restaurant Week, including Nagomi and The Chop House where she enjoyed her inexpensive meals.
“(The) Chop House was so good because obviously (it) is insanely expensive, but because each person was only $28 you were able to get steak, salad and a really fancy dessert and still got the same steakhouse experience,” Weisenfeld said. “I felt that it was a really great deal and it was really fun for a date night. I was able to go with my boyfriend to a nice restaurant that was fairly affordable.”
Vokulich also praised Restaurant Week because of its low costs and its communal value.
“It brings community spirit (to Ann Arbor) because it makes it more fun to go somewhere if you know there is an event going on,” Vokulich said.
Baru agreed with Vokulich, noting that participation in Restaurant Week is minimally about money and predominantly about community.
“Our mission is to serve a wide variety of our classic menu items and to not really worry about the fact that we may not make as much money that we normally would, because the idea is to participate in something that is truly about the community,” Baru said