Though the country may just now be discovering Birmingham’s dynamic food scene, locals have been talking about it for years. Birmingham Restaurant Week, now in its sixth year, plans to celebrate this local scene with style. With more than 60 participating restaurants, the event is expected to experience its best year yet with a focus on increasing business and attracting tourism.
The event, which starts Friday and runs through Aug. 23, will have participating restaurants offering prix-fixe menus for lunch and dinner ranging from $5 to $30.
James Little, a district manager with REV Birmingham and founder of Birmingham Restaurant Week, said the program’s concept is to promote locally owned and operated restaurants with the aim of getting people in the door during a slow time of the year. The event has been so successful that it’s become a model for other cities in the state and across the nation.
The program’s success also can be seen in the numbers. In a study conducted following last year’s event, the results showed that restaurants who have participated in Birmingham Restaurant Week for at least three years saw an average increase of 20 percent in sales compared to a normal 10-day period.
The 2014 survey also reported:
- $2,176,425 in gross receipt sales
- $217,643 in generated sales tax
- More than 107,000 individual sales
- Of those individual sales, more than 13,000 were the Birmingham Restaurant Week menus
“It’s a win-win for all involved,” Little said. “The consumer gets the deal, the restaurant receives the business—even the suppliers see the benefits.”
A ‘FOODIE EVENT’
Birmingham Restaurant Week is not a ticket-based event. Restaurants will be offering the prix fixe menus along with their normal, full-service menus. “We want people to go out and try places they have never tried before or go to places they haven’t been to in awhile,” Little said.
Though Birmingham Restaurant Week offers great dining deals, the program is more focused on promotion, an element that has evolved as the program grew. “It went from this deal-based event to more of a marketing, social media, foodie event where people just go out and enjoy themselves,” Little said.
The program’s website has been updated this year to be more user-friendly. People can now use the website to make reservations and, on the mobile platform, locate participating restaurants nearby using the smartphone’s GPS.
Social media also plays a large role. “Free Food Fridays,” which launched in May, is one of the program’s social media campaigns that gives away gift cards to participating restaurants. To enter, one has to like, comment and share the post on Birmingham Restaurant Week’s Facebook page, which has more than 11,000 likes. Winners can use the gift cards before or after restaurant week. “It’s a way to start spotlighting early the restaurants that are going to be involved, and it also gives people a reason to try a place either before or after restaurant week,” Little said.
Birmingham Restaurant Week’s Instagram account also provides a behind-the-scenes look as well as enticing photos of food one can try during the event.
FOCUS ON TOURISM
New to this year’s event is a tourism initiative, promoting Birmingham Restaurant Week to the surrounding areas and encouraging people to travel to the city for a culinary weekend. But this initiative is not new to the state.
Four years ago, the Alabama Tourism Department witnessed the success of Birmingham Restaurant Week and decided to expand the program statewide in partnership with its campaign, “A Year of Alabama Food.”
Working with Little and REV Birmingham, Alabama Restaurant Week follows the same parameters established by Birmingham’s program, including the same 10-day time period. Though the tourism department is happy to spearhead the promotion for the statewide program, which includes more than 150 participating restaurants, they also encourage individual cities to promote their own restaurant week. This has been successful so far in cities like Huntsville, Florence and Montgomery.
The Huntsville and Montgomery events also begin Friday.
“For tourism, restaurants are a key ingredient to anyone’s vacation or experience in Alabama,” said Grey Brennan, marketing director for the Alabama Tourism Department. “Alabama is blessed to have great chefs that are award-winning, but we also have the BBQ restaurant and down-home establishments that give you a warm, friendly feeling when you come. It’s not just about great food, but it’s also the great hospitality you receive.”