By Jill Wendholt Silva
Michael Werner’s staff at The Jacobson in the Crossroads is preparing to get slammed during “the busiest 10 days of the year,” aka KC Restaurant Week.
Located at 2050 Central St., the hip eatery known for mingle plates and flask service can bring in “$100,000 easy.”
In exchange, 10 percent of each meal is earmarked for charity, and grueling back-to-back double-shifts are a given.
“It’s not just a money grab,” says Werner, the restaurant’s managing partner.
“It’s about grabbing an oar, creating a hell of a party and getting the opportunity to raise money, and hopefully create a win-win on many levels.”
During Restaurant Week -– which kicks off today and runs through Jan. 20 — multi-course menus at some of Kansas City’s best restaurants will ring in at $15 for lunch and $33 for dinner.
Many savvy diners create their own bucket list and reservations fill up quickly. The list of participating restaurants hit a record 200 this year, with about 20 percent of them located downtown.
“We really want people to walk away with a value perception,” Werner says.
At Affäre, a modern German restaurant at 1911 Main St., the cases of wine specially ordered for Restaurant Week are piling up. The staff is bracing for a capacity crowd both weekends, although a few weekday reservations are still available.
Affäre has taken part in the annual event since 2013, but recently co-owner and sommelier Katrin Heuser was surprised to discover “a lot of people aren’t aware it is a fundraiser.”
The event founded by VisitKC and the Greater Kansas City Restaurant Association, has raised nearly $2.2 million over the past decade.
To emphasize the charitable component, Heuser has instructed her servers to thank customers for their contribution.
This year’s recipients include the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Kansas City, Kansas City Regional Destination Development Foundation and the Restaurant Association’s Educational Foundation.
For the past decade, Restaurant Week has been held in January — typically a slow month for local restaurants. But the extended week can be brutal coming right after the busy holiday season.
Advance planning remains the key to managing diner expectations and avoiding costly mistakes that can impact a restaurant’s reputation.
For example, during one of the first years it participated in Restaurant Week the Affäre staff decided to churn ice cream to serve atop apple strudel.
The time and labor to prepare it meant they were in the kitchen every night after service until 2 a.m. – and back on the merry-go-round at 7 a.m.
Exhaustion set in, and “everyone was ready to kill each other,” Heuser says.
This year’s dessert — a German bienenstich (or “bee sting” cake), a brioche dough with pastry cream topped with honey-almond brittle – is more forgiving and a bit less labor-intensive, if no less delicious.
“You don’t want to sell yourself short,” Heuser said.
“You want to keep the integrity of the regular menu” by choosing dishes that can be prepped in advance and assembled quickly when every table is full.
The value-conscious, three-course Restaurant Week format fits nicely with the “shareable” menu philosophy at Corvino Supper Club & Tasting Room, 1830 Walnut St.
“It’s not dumbed down,” says chef/owner Michael Corvino, who participated for the first time as a restaurant owner in 2018. “It’s very important to us to represent what we do every day.”
Diners order two savory dishes, such as the top-selling crispy pork ribs and the cheeseburger, and one sweet dish, such as milk and cookies, or a cheese plate. The dishes come out of the kitchen when ready.
For a $10 upcharge, they can wade a little deeper into the menu with whole branzino, duck soup or a bavette steak.
Servers encourage diners to avoid duplicates to put together the widest array of tastes. But how do you split a cheeseburger?
“We send a steak knife out,” Corvino says.
To avoid no-shows or cancellations, a credit card deposit is required to dine at Corvino Supper Club, but the amount is applied to the meal.
Diners also receive a $20 discount on their next visit, part of Corvino’s effort to track the number of repeat customers gleaned from Restaurant Week.
“Anytime you see an opportunity to get exposure to new guests, that’s awesome,” says Corvino, who estimates the event brought 2,000 guests through the door during last year’s event.
At Tannin Winebar + Kitchen near the corner of 18th and Walnut, the supplemental wine offerings are “part of what makes (us) unique,” says general manager Barry Tunnel. Half glass pairings with each course are $25, and full glass pairings are $50.
Tunnel is especially eager to introduce Restaurant Week diners to Paitin “Ca Veja” Nebbiolo d’Alba from Piedmont, Italy, a rich, bold, complex red. It pairs well with the show-stopping braised oxtail with celery root puree, blue cheese anglaise, parsnips and beet.
Tannin includes dessert pairings featuring port, Madeira, sherry and more. Tunnel is pairing the beloved fudge-stuffed peanut butter cookie with Dandelion Vineyards “Legacy of Australia” Pedro Ximenez.
While most participating restaurants offer their regular menu alongside the specials, Tunnel and his servers encourage their diners to choose the Restaurant Week menu that supports the partnering charities “because it is a great community-building opportunity.”
Jill Wendholt Silva is an award-winning former food editor and restaurant critic who spent nearly 30 years at The Kansas City Star. She freelances and owns her own consulting firm, Jill Silva Food. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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