The first thing you need to know about Denver Restaurant Week is that it's the largest event of its type in the country, with the most restaurants participating and the most meals served. The second thing you need to know is that it's not an actual week. When the economy took a nosedive, the 2009 version was stretched from one week at the end of February to two weeks that spilled into March, and that was the schedule again this year. But those two weeks can be grueling both for restaurant workers who have to handle the crush -- and diners who have to somehow stuff in two weeks of meal deals.
Last Thursday, Visit Denver, the city's convention and visitors bureau that organizes Denver Restaurant Week, hosted a meeting with dozens of restaurateurs to consider different schedule options. The only people who were missing? Diners.
Should DRW go back to an actual week? Should it be trimmed to ten days, including two weekends? Or trimmed to ten days, with just one weekend? Or should the two weeks be divided? One could be at the end of February, the other in August, another traditionally slow time for restaurants.
There was lots of discussion at the meeting -- but no real consensus, beyond this: "They like two weeks, without a doubt, whether consecutive or at two different times," says Visit Denver's Deborah Park.
"We love Denver Restaurant Week," says Stephanie Bonin, who owns Duo with her husband, Keith Arnold, and also Olivea with Arnold, John Broening and Yasmin Lozada-Hissom. "We've supported the idea of splitting it. If the goal is to spotlight the city's restaurants, you get to spotlight in them different ways...and experience that energy for two different weeks."
Although the two consecutive weeks can be tough on staffs, Duo and Olivea work hard to alleviate that, offering such amenities as massages for line cooks. "People talk about the fatigue of chefs," Bonin notes, "but customers are always the people who are our number one goal."
"The restaurants that are successful with it work really hard, and make it something special," says Frank Bonanno, whose restaurants all participate, even though they range from Mizuna -- where the normal tab for two is four times the $52.80 of Denver Restaurant Week price -- to Osteria Marco, whose average price point is about that of DRW. No matter what format Visit Denver decides for 2012, Bonanno's group will be back. "I love doing it," Bonanno says. "I love being a part of it."
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Visit Denver doesn't have a deadline for making a decision on 2012's schedule, Park says -- which means there's time for consumers to dish their own ideas about Denver Restaurant Week. Is two consecutive weeks of dining deals just too much of a good thing? Would a second week in August (and that's August 2012, not 2011) be appealing? Or is it easier to just plan a marathon of munching?
"Let's talk to the diners," says Bonanno. "That's who this is for."
So here's your chance. Post your thoughts on Denver Restaurant Week below, and we'll serve them up to Visit Denver. "We'd be interested to know what people think," promises Park.