Des Moines Restaurant Week Aids Crowded Industry in Season of Low Revenue, Low Unemployment

DES MOINES, Iowa -- This weekend is the last time to take advantage of 2019's  “Des Moines Restaurant Week.” More than 40 local restaurants around the metro are offering special fix priced menus for the event.

It's a great deal for those wanting to try something new and a way for restaurants to get their name out there, but it's a lot more than just a friendly marketing strategy. Restaurant Week also really helps ramp up business in Des Moines' historically lowest weeks of the year.

“Restaurant Week is a wonderful thing for our industry because it is deliberately scheduled at a time of the year where things can be a little slower,” Chris Diebel, managing partner for Teddy Maroon's and Bubba Southern Classics said. “The fair definitely draws all of the consumers out to the fairgrounds for a couple of weeks, then it goes right into 'go back to school' time which can also suck the air out of some disposable income. So giving people an incentive to get out and about in a traditionally slower period of time is amazing for our industry.”

It's an industry that many admit is a hard one to be in, especially in Des Moines.

“Des Moines is actually second only to New York City for the number of restaurants. We have more restaurants per capita in Des Moines than almost any city in the United States,” Jessica Dunker, President and CEO of the Iowa Restaurant Association said. “So there are many, many places to go out and try, both in the Restaurant Week model and not in the Restaurant Week model. We are really proud of that, but it also means it's a hard business to be in and a hard business to make money and that's one of the reasons that restaurants actually participate in Restaurant Week. It's a way for you to have yourself weighed up against competitors.”

“Consumers have a lot of choices, especially in greater Des Moines. We are really blessed with some really amazing opportunities for hospitality,” Diebel said. “So getting your name out there is really important. It's a great marketing tool. For instance, Teddy Maroon's, being a brand new restaurant, we’re still less than a year old. There's still plenty of people out there who haven't given us a shot. So hopefully [restaurant week] is a little bit of an incentive for them to come give us a try.”

It may seem hard to believe when Des Moines has seen numerous restaurants closing within these past few months, but still Des Moines is overbuilt for its size when it comes to restaurants and openings are doubling the number of closings in 2019.

It’s not only the stiff competition but also because of the tight labor market many find themselves in due to Iowa's low unemployment rate.

“There's a ‘Now Hiring’ sign in the window of every restaurant in the state of Iowa, actually probably the United States and we are doing a lot of creative things to try and get workforce into our industry,” Dunker said. “Right now if you were to ask 100 restaurants what their biggest worry was, 47 owners would say to you ‘my biggest number one worry is workforce,’ so almost half. That is their number one worry is finding quality workforce. We're doing things like teaching in the prisons to help people in the re-entry population. We're twice as likely to hire those folks. We're working with high schools to do professional development programs.”

Dunker also says they are the number one industry that moves people into the middle class the fastest. So not only is dining out a fun experience, but it also is supporting some Iowans who need it most.

Restaurant Week ends on the 25th. Customers can get two meals or one three-course meal for just $28 at the participating restaurants.

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