What’s a Brooklyn neighborhood without a restaurant week? Especially a neighborhood that was attracting hot restaurants and earning accolades from the food critics?
Despite the organic growth of new food and beverage businesses along the Washington Ave corridor (straddling the Prospect Heights and Crown Heights neighborhoods in Brooklyn) there had been no organized effort to promote the avenue as a dining and drinking destination.
As President of the Merchant’s Association, I took the lead to produce ‘Wash Ave Eats’, a restaurant and nightlife week.
Chairing a committee of local merchants, we developed a unique concept, sold it to our neighboring businesses, and promoted a week’s worth of food & beverage specials and events.
The committee met to brainstorm ideas and then fanned out over the area to gauge merchant interest in participation and, if owners were hesitant, to try to gather some reasons why.
These ‘soft sell’ listening sessions served two purposes: we were able to collect information about what type of event owners would be willing to partake in and by enlisting their help in creating that event we were able to present Wash Ave Eats as something they were helping to build, not something that was being sold to them.
They key takeaway from our interviews was that owners were concerned about making cost commitments for a new event with no established track record.
If it went well but they didn’t have enough inventory or staff, there was a risk of disappointing and alienating customers.
If it went poorly, they risked buying inventory that would go to waste, paying extra staff that was unneeded, or giving discounts to the few customers that would have dined there anyway.
Further, because the food and beverage options on the avenue were a vibrant mix of small, casual, and budget friendly offerings, not sit-down restaurants, owners didn’t see a ‘restaurant week’ as something that they would participate in.
Clearly, we had to come up with an event concept that addressed owner concerns and made sense for this neighborhood.
To capture the spirit of the area and to inspire people to explore the whole avenue, we convinced local businesses to add small, limited-edition items to their menu that guests could easily add to their meal or make their way up the avenue trying.
Positioning these offerings as ‘limited-edition’ allowed us to simultaneously stimulate a sense of urgency in consumers while protecting the business owners against any negative consequences if supplies ran out -items being no longer available was an integral part of the experience.
We also enlisted the local homebrew shop to make a special beer ‘Wash Ave Hops’ that would only be available at bars on the avenue and organized a bar crawl. This helped to promote the ‘limited’ nature of the “Wash Ave Eats” experience while also providing a focal event guaranteed to drive interest that we could use to kick off the week.
Adopting this strategy allowed us to overcome concerns and made Wash Ave Eats a unique experience true to the neighborhood.