Chicago Restaurant Week, the annual event designed to attract customers to restaurants during typically slow winter months with discounted special offerings, is back with a few changes. The event will run from March 19 through April 4, featuring special prix-fixe menus for $25 brunches and lunches, as well as $39 or $55 dinners, according to Choose Chicago, the city’s tourism arm. Despite the pandemic, a record-breaking number of more than 430 restaurants in the Chicago area participated, according to organizers.
Restaurant operators who want to get involved can register online through Friday, February 12. Organizers will announce the lineup and open reservations on February 24.
The program will include both dine-in and takeout menus in an effort to include operators who can’t or won’t reopen patio seating and indoor dining. Organizers have also waived participation fees for restaurants, but businesses are required to have a partnership with Choose Chicago. Indoor dining is permitted at a 25 percent capacity, or a 25-person limit per room.
The event draws mix of reactions. Customers get excited trying to calculate which restaurants have the best deals. Many restaurant owners are thankful to have increased sales when winter normally keeps customers at home. However, some servers don’t look forward to Restaurant Week, as they’d rather be serving regular customers rather than new customers who don’t tip well, and aren’t used to dining out. Restaurant owners are hopeful the event generates curiosity so customers return after the event is over.
The event could take on extra urgency this year, as restaurant operators balance pandemic problems with the usual winter challenges: cold temperatures, snowy streets, and slow shifts with few customers. Just as holidays like Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day provide an opportunity for establishments to keep their names in the public eye and compensate for some recent losses, promotional events and specials may help keep restaurants solvent as COVID-19 vaccine rollout continues.
And in other news...
— Family-owned restaurant stalwart Chicago Joe’s is permanently closed after 33 years, and developers plan to raze its striking white building on the corner of Oakley Avenue and Irving Park Road in North Center in favor of a 53-foot-tall condo building and 16 parking spaces. The restaurant, owned by the same family for three generations, served a menu of American classics like burgers, jumbo chicken wings, and patty melts. Ownership put the building at 2256 W. Irving Park Road for sale two years ago and shut down food service in late October due to the state’s ban on indoor dining. Block Club Chicago has more on this story.
— Chicagoans in need of a free meal can pick one up on weekdays, no questions asked, at acclaimed Mexican restaurant Mi Tocaya Antojeria in Logan Square. Meals are now available Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. while supplies last at 2800 W. Logan Boulevard. It’s part of chef and owner Diana Dávila’s Todos Ponen initiative (sharing a name with the restaurant’s video series) designed to feed undocumented restaurant workers who are ineligible federal stimulus checks and unemployment benefits. Supporters can donate to the project via PayPal.
— Country star Martina McBride is the latest famous musician to lend her name to Piece Pizza’s fundraising efforts for Chicago’s indie venues shuttered by the pandemic, after a pie from Sammy Hagar (Van Halen) raised more than $1,200 in two weeks. The Martina — a white pizza with spinach, red onion, Kalamata olives, mozzarella, Pecorino Roman, ricotta, and Nashville hot honey — will become available through February 14. Piece in Wicker Park will donate $5 to the Chicago Independent Venue League for every Martina pizza sold. Piece is co-owned by Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen.