Criticize Restaurant Week? Really?

Restaurant Week is one of those things – like world peace – that would seem to enjoy universal support; who, after all, would argue against an effort to end hunger? So, when told that at least one eastern chef has rather vociferously come out against this yearly initiative that’s held in numerous cities across the country (maintaining the benefits are not worth the effort for restaurants or charities), Brian Burton, president and CEO of Three Square food bank, just didn’t get it.

“I can vouch for the fact that it’s raised over a half-million dollars to fight hunger in this community, and that’s the equivalent of 1½ million meals,” Burton said. “Would he have been willing to feed all those people?”

Lest you think Burton has an oversized dog in this race, here’s the opinion of Michael Armstrong, executive chef of Tao at The Venetian.

“It’s great for us, because on one hand, we’re helping out a charity,” Armstrong said. But also, “it brings out a clientele that isn’t your regular customer.”

In part because Tao the restaurant turns into Tao the nightclub as the evening wanes, Armstrong said, a lot of people have what he calls “preconceived notions: ‘It’s not a place for me. It’s too expensive.’ “

“You know already that you have set menu prices” for Restaurant Week, he said. “It’s an opportunity to try something new, and I think it gives people a good feeling, knowing that it’s going to a charity. Both parties are benefiting a lot.”

If you’re not familiar with Restaurant Week, which runs from Monday through Sept. 2, it works like this: Restaurants that want to participate in it – and this time, that’s more than 80 – create special prix-fixe menus for breakfast, lunch or dinner, priced at $20.12, $30.12, $40.12 or $50.12. A fixed portion of the proceeds ($4, $5 or $6, which is determined by the restaurant) is donated to Three Square for every meal sold.

Armstrong said that throughout the year, $1 for every meal served at Tao restaurant is donated to Three Square; during Restaurant Week, that increases to $4.

This is Tao’s third year of participating in the event, which is six years old.

“Because this is just our sixth year doing it, we feel that we’re still building momentum,” Burton said. “We’ve been quite pleasantly surprised by the high level of interest, not just along the Strip but increasingly from off-Strip and downtown restaurants.”

But besides the monetary value of the event, Burton said, there’s a big awareness factor.

Unlike major corporations, he said, nonprofits don’t have big advertising budgets and have to come up with creative ways to get their messages out to the community.

“It is a great sort of generator of goodwill, and people tell us that a lot – that they actually are picking out their restaurant because they know part of that money will help us do our mission and they feel good about that,” Burton said.

Armstrong said he, too, tries to eat at a new restaurant during every Restaurant Week. And Burton said he often hears that out-of-town visitors, particularly from Southern California, plan their trips to Las Vegas to coincide with Restaurant Week.

“This is a beautiful way to engage folks who may not otherwise have an opportunity or reason to think about hunger in the community,” Burton said.

For a list of participating restaurants, prices and menus, go to

Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at hrinella@review or 702-383-0474.


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