What's the point of Queen's Feast if the meals keep getting more expensive?
Charlotte Restaurant Week is powerful in its simplicity. One deal, multiple restaurants, twice a year: a three course meal for $30 per person.
The first few times I did it, I instantly fell in love with the concept. The heart behind it, no matter how it's been reinterpreted in recent editions, was to give Charlotteans access to amazing food that they normally might not be able to afford. That's the point of including the discount. The popularity of the event was so overwhelming, Charlotte Restaurant Week participants started competing for sales, adding drinks to their deals, bonus courses, and larger specialty menus.
The higher-end restaurants scoffed at the concept for a long time. Their managers and their waiters didn't want poor people in their establishments, not even for a short 7-day period. But at some point, more expensive Charlotte restaurants must've got sick of missing out on just two weeks a year of sales, and decided they wanted to get in on the action.
"Let's offer a great inexpensive deal," they said. No, just kidding. They wanted in on the fun, but they didn't want to offer a deal. So, the $35 option was introduced, and Charlotte Restaurant Week has never been as good since.
It's getting harder and harder to find a great Charlotte Restaurant Week deal. The food is getting more expensive (and worse, but that's a Charlotte-wide problem). The menus are getting smaller. The bonus courses and drinks are disappearing. So, what's the point of Charlotte Restaurant Week?
This actually surprised me: my CTRL+F research of the Charlotte Restaurant Week page revealed 91 of the 130+ participating restaurants opt to offer the $35 deal. That's around 70%. The $30 deal the week was founded upon is now the clear minority of the offers. Subtract drinks and bonus courses, and Charlotte Restaurant Week stops being about offering great meals at affordable prices and becomes essentially indistinguishable from any other day of the year in Charlotte dining.
What kinds of deals can be offered to resurrect Charlotte Restaurant Week as a true celebration of our city's dining rather than just a semi-annual cash grab? The model is deals like Tin Kitchen + NoDa Brewing's. Food trucks typically push meals out for around $10, but to earn the extra $20, Tin pulled out all the stops, offering a flight of beers, a killer menu, and a unique dining experience.
And the organizers need to take a harder line. If a restaurant doesn't want to offer a great meal at a great price, then they don't get to participate in restaurant week. The brand has to be protected. What good is it to have over 130 restaurants when 70% of them appear to be uninterested in providing an affordable dining experience for Charlotteans?