Local restaurants embrace Arizona Restaurant Week to attract new customers

PHOENIX – Customers can chow down on meals at a discount during Arizona Restaurant Week, getting a chance to sample new cuisine, travel outside their neighborhood and try seasonal food at a bargain.

The event offers residents and tourists three-course meals for $33 or $44 per person from more than 140 restaurants in the Phoenix area and elsewhere in central and southern Arizona. The ten-day event started May 19 and ends Sunday.

Restaurant owners said the event is good for business. It lasted about a week when the Arizona Restaurant Association launched it in 2008 but has stretched out since that time. The meals span diverse cuisines, from Southwestern to Ethiopian.

“We have seen the restaurants increase their sales at Roaring Fork and Salty Sow, a sister restaurant, year after year with restaurant week,” said Jim VanDercook, president of Guy and Larry Restaurants. Roaring Fork was one of the first restaurants to participate in the event, starting in 2008.

Arabeen Arora, owner of The Dhaba in Tempe, said customers who live as far as 30 miles away come to sample the restaurant’s Punjabi Indian cuisine. One goal of restaurant week is to draw people outside their neighborhood into other parts of the Valley or Arizona.

The Dhaba offers a special meal at $44 per couple.

“We are used to saying a family that prays together, stays together. My concept is a couple that eats together, stays together,” Arora said. More than 160 couples – new customers – came to the restaurant during the fall event and the restaurant was on pace to increase that number by the time the event ends Sunday, he said.

Customers like the idea of spending money at small, locally owned restaurants, said Bob Mancuso, owner of family-owned restaurant Mancuso’s.

“Everything cycles, and supporting the little guy seems to be coming back around,” Mancuso said, adding restaurant week helps them gain recognition in their new location in downtown Phoenix. He moved the restaurant from Scottsdale eight months ago.

Corbin James, general manager of Stock & Stable, which will mark their first year in business come June, said the event gives them the opportunity to test seasonal menus.

“Fortunately, we just came out with a new summer menu,” said Corbin James, general manager of Stock & Stable. They will have a new menu out by fall, highlighting three new dishes and giving people a different option in time for the fall edition of restaurant week.

The event is an investment for business owners that does not always pay off in the short term. Offering their best dishes to customers at a set price of $33 or $44 can trim profits.

“You’re already giving customers a discount,” Mancuso said. “You don’t want to put too much money into advertising for that.” Many restaurant owners hope to impress new diners enough to lure them into returning once the event ends.