Fox Valley Restaurant Week debuts on Thursday and participating restaurants are busy preparing for the event which runs through September 26. Twenty-six restaurants from around the Fox Valley will offer fixed-price, three-course meals for lunch and dinner, with $1 from each plate benefiting Volunteer Fox Cities, a nonprofit organization that connects volunteers to community needs.
This partnership is a new component to Fox Valley Restaurant Week and participating restaurants are eager to see it come to fruition.
“I think any time that a member of the community has an opportunity to utilize guests coming into their restaurant to elevate volunteerism in the community, it’s a win for everyone,” says Scott Roekle, director of operations for Supple Group which has several restaurants participating in the event including Fox River Brewing Co., Fratellos Riverfront Restaurant and The Melting Pot.
Roekle serves on the Fox Valley Restaurant Week steering committee along with Cindy Wetzel, owner of ‘zza Odyssey Pizzeria & Pub, who first participated in Restaurant Week 2016.
“It was a breakout awareness week for us,” she says. “We saw more than a 30 percent increase in sales over the previous year that same week. Even single-digit increases make restaurants happy, so this was huge.”
While restaurants see increases in sales and new clientele, the event offers many advantages to diners as well. In addition to the discounted price points, restaurants often offer more experimental dishes on their Restaurant Week menus.
“We look to try new items out that we know are doing well in other areas of the country and try to bring them to the Fox Valley a little earlier,” Roekle says. “Overall it raises the bar for dining in the Fox Valley when there is a friendly competition between restaurants when showcasing service and food, instead of catering to the norm. Our community is behind that kind of innovation.”
Kimberly Finnell, co-owner of Osorio’s Latin Fusion and Restaurant Week steering committee member, says her Restaurant Week menu features many items not regularly offered. Chef and co-owner Liborio Osorio is excited for guests to try the Cuban black bean soup. Finnell’s favorite is the yuca balls – fried balls of shredded yuca root (crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside) topped with creamy queso dip and homemade chorizo sausage.
Besides the food, Finnell says the community-driven aspect of Restaurant Week is her favorite part of the event.
“The thing I am constantly preaching is how much I love this community and how it supports its small businesses,” Finnell says. “This is a great way to support restaurants and local business people while trying something new.”
Ready to dig in? Here are five tips for making the most of your Fox Valley Restaurant Week experience.
1. Scope out menus beforehand and keep an open mind.
Make a point to read through ALL the menus before the week begins and make your game plan. Block out your must-try restaurants for as many meals as your schedule allows. “It’s an amazing opportunity to try that restaurant you haven’t been to before and try something new. Anduzzi’s may be a sports bar, but the menu may completely surprise you,” Finnell says.
2. Make reservations, when accepted.
Not all participating restaurants accept reservations, but it’s worth making them at those that do. The Restaurant Week deals draw the crowds, so expect longer wait times even at lunch.
3. Take advantage of lunch.
Speaking of lunch, many Restaurant Week pros argue that the midday meal is where you get the most bang for your buck. Three generous courses for only $13 is tough to beat, so consider penciling in a few during the week.
4. Share with friends to try more dishes.
Make a deal with your dining buddies to order different items and split your courses to optimize your dishes-per-restaurant ratio. “Don’t do this alone,” Roekle says. “And don’t just go with your spouse or friend. Grab a group of people, go out and talk about it.”
5. Have patience (and a drink).
Restaurant Week is a fun event, but it’s also a lot of work to execute. Most restaurants experience a higher volume of customers so a little patience goes a long way. “Just like shopping at Christmas, be patient,” Wetzel says. “These restaurateurs are working very hard to deliver great food. Realize it’s an experience and enjoy a beverage while you’re waiting.”
If desired, you may choose to increase your donation to Volunteer Fox Cities beyond the $1 per plate that is built into the cost. Ask your server for details.
For a full list of participating restaurants and their menus, visit foxvalleyfood.com.