Restaurant owners: Hilton Head Restaurant Week slices profits to serve up loyalty

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Restaurant owners: Hilton Head Restaurant Week slices profits to serve up loyalty

By GINA SMITH
gsmith@islandpacket.com
Published Friday, January 25, 2013   |  468 Words  |  

It doesn't turn much of a profit for area restaurants.

But it gives their owners an opportunity to showcase their food to local people who -- they hope -- return over and over for regularly priced meals.

Chamber Restaurant Week, put on by the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce, begins today and runs through Feb. 2. From seafood to barbecue, Japanese to Greek fare, local restaurants promise good deals and even better food.

Restaurateurs like Brandon Arrieta, owner of Hugo's Seafood & Steakhouse, have gone into overdrive, perfecting new menu items to debut, including a flaming key lime meringue tart.

Last year, Arrieta turned away about 900 customers during the weeklong event because he didn't have enough space in the restaurant. He predicts that number will swell to about 1,100 this year. To compensate, he will, once again, offer a rain check, during which those turned away can return the following week for the special menu at the same reduced price.

"It's an opportunity to reach out to locals who are potential new customers and highlight your brand," Arrieta said. "You're going to take a profit-margin hit. There's no way around it, but it pays off over time."

While the number of customers grows, deeply discounted menu items take a bite out of the restaurants' bottom lines, he said, noting he's offering a $19.99 three-course dinner when the entrees alone ordinarily cost that much. And he's offering discounted cocktails.

"The best part of it is all the new people who walk into your door. It's so many new faces who say, 'I've heard about this place. I've been wanting to try it out.' And it's at a nice price, so it's not as big of a gamble as it is the other times of year," he said. "It pays off over time."

This marks the fifth year the chamber has sponsored the event, which includes 71 restaurants -- the most yet.

Fashioned after similar weeks in New York City and Los Angeles, the event attempts to pump up business during the slow season when tourists aren't around.

The state of South Carolina launched its own restaurant week three years ago, while cities around the state also hold their own versions, said Pollen Williamson of the S.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association.

Hilton Head's week was one of the first.

"When we started Chamber Restaurant Week five years ago, we asked a group of restaurateurs what their slowest month of the year was, and they all spoke about the end of January traditionally being a very slow time for business," said Charlie Clark, chamber spokeswoman.