With freezing temperatures and a lot fewer hours of daylight, it’s easy to want to hibernate in January. Restaurant owners know that, so they do a pretty good job of enticing people to come out from under the blankets, throw on a pretty dress and enjoy a good meal out. Restaurant week, known as Queen’s Feast in Charlotte, runs January 19-28 this year and typically offers three courses for $30. (Some of the more expensive restaurants charge $35.)
Queen’s Feast is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year with more restaurants participating than ever before. So what should you know to take full advantage? We checked in with the founder and some participating restaurants to make sure you need elastic pants when the week is over.
The Origins of Queen’s Feast
In 2007 Queen’s Feast creator Bruce Hensley was doing public relations for a national seafood chain when one of the restaurant executives was in Charlotte visiting from New York. The visitor asked about restaurant week, something that at that point didn’t exist in the Queen City. Bruce started digging around and learned 24 different cities across the country had some sort of restaurant week. He spent a year getting his act together and launched Queen’s Feast in July 2008 with just 42 Charlotte restaurants taking part. There are now 150 restaurant weeks around the country and more than 134 restaurants participating in Charlotte. That number gets bigger every year. So does the number of diners enjoying the deal. Last July Queen’s Feast hosted almost 180,000 diners.
What’s Included in the Cost?
Most restaurants offer a three-course prix fixe menu for $30, but some of the more upscale restaurants charge $35 because you get a filet mignon with your meal. Some of the lesser expensive places throw in wine to sweeten the deal. In a first for restaurant week, a food truck will be on the roster. Bruce says, “We’re getting a lot of excitement about Tin Kitchen being on the list.” That might be because the truck that parks at NoDa Brewery will be including a flight of beer in the cost. SB TIP: Be aware that some of the steakhouses offer a smaller piece of meat as part of the restaurant week deal and will offer you a bigger piece for an additional cost.
Who Usually Goes
Bruce says Queen’s Feast is a great time to try a new place and avoid your usual stomping ground. He admits, this is not a moneymaker for restaurants. This is about marketing for them. “We surveyed the restaurants and on average they see 75 percent new people during restaurant week.” Stephen Schmitt, executive chef of WP Kitchen + Bar agrees, saying, “We love seeing so many new faces during Charlotte restaurant week. It’s been a great opportunity for diners to get introduced to Wolfgang Puck’s globally influenced cuisine made with local ingredients. This year, our team has paired wines with each of the courses, which our guests can choose to add to their dining experience. Our advice is to make reservations as soon as possible, as our dining room does fill up quickly during this event!”
The Most Popular
Bruce says, “It’s usually some of the steakhouses and some of the more popular and expensive restaurants that are popular every year.” (Chima, Del Friscos, Ruth’s Chris, Sullivan’s and Capital Grille are always at the top of the heap.) But he adds that some of the independent shops also tend to stay very busy: Mimosa Grill, Upstream, Heirloom, Luca, Bonterra and Fahrenheit are always popular.
Best Bang For Your Buck
The steakhouses. Think about it — it can sometimes cost more than $35 just to get your main course in these places. During Queen’s Feast you also get an appetizer and a dessert too! The Vivace Queen’s Feast menu is extensive, offering 11 first course choices, 12 entrée choices and five choices for dessert. SB TIP: A handful of the restaurants include their entire menu, meaning you can order whatever you want. Aria, Heirloom and Fiama are all doing that this year.
The popular places fill up and so do the popular time slots. What was once a really slow week for food establishments becomes a crazy week, so keep that in mind. You can make reservations on the Queen’s Feast website or go directly through a particular restaurant.
Queen’s Feast kicks off this Friday. Learn more about the nine-day event, which restaurants are participating and much more at the Queen’s Feast website. Bon appetit!
Find more delicious places to dine any time of year — check out our “Food & Dining” section!