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Restaurant Week returns for the fall Locally produced foods, wines on bargain-filled menu

Local Restaurant Week is back, and it's bringing nature's bounty with it.

The event aims once again to draw customers into local restaurants with menu packages specially priced at $20.09 plus tax and gratuity.

But this time around, the focus is on the region's fall food and wine harvest. Running Monday through Sept. 28, the event is strategically timed to bring customers in while food is at its peak freshness and quality -- a benefit customers often fail to reap because of hectic fall schedules, experts said.

"Our agricultural products are in season, they're fresh and they're in distribution," said Vince McConeghy, whose Web site LocalFoodService.com is the technology and support provider for the event. "But ironically, the restaurant business is slow during that time."

Local Restaurant Week aims to change that with hard-to-refuse bargain meal offers. Some, such as Gate House Grille in Williamsville, include several courses or include drinks, such as Giangel's Pizza Cafe in Elma. Others are geared toward couples, covering a tab for two such as at La Dolce Vita on Hertel Avenue.

Much like the area's first Local Restaurant Week in March, this month's event is another homegrown stimulus plan -- encouraging cash-strapped consumers to try out new dining experiences while helping independent restaurateurs fill tables and increase sales.

That money in turn filters out to the wider community, with every $1 spent at local eateries generating an additional 98 cents in sales elsewhere in the state's economy, according to the New York State Restaurant Association.

About 150 of the region's independent restaurants are expected to participate, with an added focus on drinking locally while eating locally. Members have partnered with 26 local breweries and wineries scattered between Cleveland (Great Lakes Brewing Co.), the Finger Lakes (Thirsty Owl Wine Co.) and Long Island (Blue Point Brewing Co.).

The list of participating restaurants, wineries and breweries continues to grow and will be updated regularly at www.LocalRestaurantWeek.com, along with each restaurant's special menu offering. Searches can be filtered by neighborhood, winery, brewery or restaurant.

Local Restaurant Week's premier effort in March was thrown together quickly by Sea Bar Chef Mike Andrezjewski as a response to the consumer spending crisis gripping the country at the time. It was a smashing success, bringing life back to eateries that had gone all but empty as the economy began circling the drain.

Members are expecting similar success this month.

"It's a promotion people don't forget about," Andrezjewski said. "We turn a profit in good will. We've got new customers that keep coming back the rest of the year. It keeps paying off."

This fall's event is expected to bring in an additional $2 million of new-business revenue for the independent restaurant community -- the state's third largest industry.

Too, the buy-in for participants is downright cheap compared to similar Restaurant Week events held elsewhere in the country. Registrants here pay just $75 to $125 to cover costs including a donation to the Food Bank of Western New York. Restaurateurs in Cleveland or Los Angeles can pay anywhere from $500 to $1,800.

Though offering discounted menu items can beat up the initial bottom line -- some restaurant margins take a 40 percent hit -- the marketing push rewards in other ways. Large groups dining during traditionally slow periods are a sight for sore entrepreneurial eyes.

"When you see six-tops and 10-tops in your restaurant on a Tuesday night, it's about the greatest sight for a restaurateur to see," McConeghy said.

e-mail: schristmann@buffnews.com

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