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Restaurant Week changed to appeal to more customers

Boston’s upcoming Restaurant Week is being revamped with new, lower-priced options, as well as renamed Dine Out Boston, due to a gradual decline in both restaurant and customer participants over the past few years.

From March 16 to 21 and March 23 to 28, Dine Out Boston will involve 188 restaurants. Unlike previous years where there was a fixed price of $38 for all restaurants, there will be three options for prices depending on the affordability of the restaurant. Lunch will either be $15, $20 or $25, and dinner will either be $28, $33 or $38.

“Last year’s event was running for 13 years, so it was really time for a new recipe,” said Pamela Frechette, Visitor Marketing Manager of Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The numbers were decreasing, and the price point, made it difficult for many restaurants to participate. We are providing more flexibility for the restaurants in that they can pick their own price point, so you can have the four-star restaurants and you can have the corner bistro involved.”

In addition to altering the prices, the GBCVB eliminated the course restrictions that previously required all restaurants to adhere to a three-course rule.

“[This is] with the hope that it will allow for more creativity on the part of the chef,” Frechette said. “Maybe there’s a littleamuse-bouche to begin with, a little finale at the end … It’s really a lot more flexibility on the part of the restaurants and ultimately gives diners more options.”

Although more restaurants have been involved in Restaurant Week in the past, Frechette says the GBCVB is optimistic that this is the beginning of a revival.

“We know the numbers were down substantially in terms of the number of meals served at the restaurants and we had been talking for over a year about mixing this up,” she said. “Just rolling it out, I don’t think it’s going to blow our socks off this March, but hopefully when it comes back in August there will be growth.”

Frechette said Restaurant Week began in order to help restaurants during the slow season in August, and it is very important to businesses in Boston.

“When we started this in 2001, we started it in August, which is the slow period in the city, and we only had 36 restaurants,” she said. “The initial reason was to drive business … we’ve had restaurants tell us that they would’ve had to lay off staff for those weeks in August if it weren’t for Restaurant Week … It’s priming the local economic pump.”

Jeffrey Gates, co-owner of the Aquitaine Group that has seven restaurants participating and has participated in Restaurant Week since 2001, said the main issue is the lack of marketing.

“We didn’t ask for these changes, instead we asked for them to do a better job promoting Restaurant Week,” he said. “But we do think the changes are good for the consumer and for the restaurants because it’s going to allow more restaurants to figure out a price structure that works best for them, and it’s going to give the consumer an opportunity to select pricing that is more reflective of what they want to spend.”

Gates also said the weeks benefit his businesses and more restaurants should take part in Dine Out Boston because it spurs the economy and benefits the whole city.

“Restaurant Week in March and August were the busiest periods for our restaurants during the whole year,” he said. “It’s certainly a very strong event for the city and for tourism in Boston. It’s a business decision to be involved and it has always been a fabulous success for us. [It is a] very appropriate time because [it’s] very quiet and to do a promotion that is city-wide is a great opportunity.”

Several residents said they were looking forward to experiencing the news changes for themselves.

Sarah Williams, 30, of Back Bay, said the leniency might not have the best effect.

“This is supposed to be really cool, special meals,” she said. “This may make the event a little less unique because there aren’t specific guidelines.”

Dan Pirbudagov, 30, of Brookline, said he has attended Restaurant Week frequently in the past and predicted the changes would be useful.

“I’ve gone to several restaurants during Restaurant Week … if I’m with people who aren’t as luxurious then the prices seemed a little overpriced,” he said. “But when I would go to the high-end restaurants, it would seem like a great deal. As long as restaurants appropriately choose their price range, pricey restaurants don’t take advantage of the leniency, and the meals are still relatively good deals compared to normally.”

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