The arrival of Restaurant Week in cities across the country is invariably accompanied by grumbling from food writers, who like to gripe about predictable menus, questionable deals and throngs of inexperienced diners. It's a particularly ungrateful stance, considering the event format was first created for reporters.
In 1992, Tim Zagat, who 10 years earlier had pioneered crowd-sourced restaurant reviews, and New York City restaurateur Joe Baum invented the prix-fixe format as a "goodwill gesture" toward the 15,000 reporters coming to town to cover the Democratic National Convention. "Frankly, we thought it would be a short-term money loser," Zagat wrote in a 2010 post for The Atlantic.
About 100 restaurants agreed to serve lunch for $19.92, including the legendary Quilted Giraffe, which typically charged about $45 for a midday meal.
"It is bordering on hysteria," owner Barry Wine told The New York Times. "I can honestly say that we've received over 3,000 phone calls requesting reservations for lunch next week, including ones from celebrities who would normally be out of town in July."
Robert DeNiro didn't make the cut: Wine's wife Susan declared the actor could come for dinner and pay full price. Both Ohio senators were waitlisted.
Despite the overwhelming success of the mid-summer event, the concept didn't immediately migrate to other cities. It took the post-9/11 economic downturn to inspire cities such as Washington, D.C., to offer similar events as customer bait.
The Greater Charleston Restaurant Association offered its first Restaurant Week in 2010. Forty restaurants joined the promotion, which featured $20 and $30 three-course meals. The ceiling was later raised to $40 so more restaurants could participate. This year, restaurants aren't required to adhere to specific category tiers.
Charleston Restaurant Week, held over traditionally slow restaurant traffic periods in January and September, last year added lunches to its lineup. It also launched a Charleston Restaurant Week app.
"We had seen the potential over the years," Peninsula Grill chef Graham Dailey told The Post and Courier in 2012, when the restaurant offered its first Charleston Restaurant Week menu. "It's grown and grown."
This year, more than 140 restaurants are on the Charleston Restaurant Week roster.