(Bloomberg) -- Two words that will make informed diners and chefs across America roll their collective eyes: Restaurant Week.
In response, Resy, the restaurant reservation company, has joined with Capital One Financial Corp. to create Off Menu Week, a new model for customers who’ve grown tired of the salmon on herb purée that has come to symbolize prix fixe Restaurant Week menus.
For the Off Menu program, about a dozen restaurants in six major food cities nationwide will offer customers the chance for unconventional, behind-the-scenes experiences. An elegant seafood restaurant might let diners see experiments with sushi; a Michelin-starred place could offer the chance to order the staff meal.
While Restaurant Week is price-focused, Resy’s pilot program highlights access.
“Restaurant Week is dated, it lacks passion, it lacks authenticity,” says Ben Leventhal, co-founder and chief executive officer of Resy. “If we say to our customers, ‘We got you a good deal,’ it’s not interesting or exciting to them. Zillions of places are doing that. Off Menu Week will let customers get the backstage experience, the one everyone covets.”
The Off Menu program will start in Los Angeles on Feb. 25. The other participating cities include Washington, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, and Austin. Capital One credit card holders will be given more than 72 hours of advance access to reservations, before they go live on Resy. (Restaurants will have the option of offering the experience to walk-ins.) The two companies have teamed up on projects in the past. Resy currently works with about 4,000 restaurants internationally and around 1.5 million diners per week.
Curtis Stone is planning his Off Menu offerings for his Los Angeles restaurant Maude, whose menu focuses on wine regions. “We want to make it interactive with guests. Quite often, we’ll nail a dish down but don’t know what wine to pair it with,” he says. “We might show different versions of a dish and serve it with a couple wines so people can see it go this way and that way.”
In Washington, where Off Menu Week starts on April 8, Jeremiah Langhorne of the Dabney also wants guests to have a look at the dish creation process. “Let’s say that we have ramps,” he says. “Typically, we would try grilling, smoking, pickling, and sautéing them, and then decide what works best. We might give guests a chance to sample a couple different versions so they can see how these dishes come to life.”
Other notable participating restaurants include Rustic Canyon, Tallula’s, Night + Market Sahm, and Kismet in Los Angeles, as well as Tetsu and Aldo Sohm Wine Bar in New York.
While credit card programs such as Chase Sapphire have been scaling back their rewards as customers game the system by churning through introductory offers, Monica Bauder, head of cardholder access at Capital One, sees programs like Off Menu as a retention tool. “We feel strongly about these programs that innovate,” she says, name-checking the company’s Savor card, which offers 4 percent cash back on dining and entertainment.
Dining trends have been a major driver of credit card spending in the past year. According to Mastercard SpendingPulse data, overall restaurant sales in the U.S. were up 5.3 percent year-to-date through November 2018, reaching $49.9 billion that month alone.
On Jan. 9, Capital One also kicks off its Exclusive Tables program. Cardholders can book prime-time two-tops in hard-to-get-into restaurants in three major cities: New York, Washington, and Austin. Restaurants include spots such as Manhattan’s Legacy Records and Masseria in D.C.
Meanwhile, while Leventhal says Off Menu Week is “100 percent growing from here,” Restaurant Week doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. New York inaugurated the program in 1992, when it was created to bring in visiting delegates during the Democratic National Convention. It now takes place twice a year: The winter series starts on Jan. 21, with two-course lunches at $26 and three-course dinners for $42.
Celso Moreira, director of operations at high-end Peking duck destination DaDong, says it still resonates with customers. During the summer installment of Restaurant Week, DaDong increased business by about 45 percent, he says. “And we are expecting even higher for this winter season.”
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