It’s that time again, when restaurants nationwide band together to fight the January slowdown with Restaurant Weeks. Eateries offer fixed-price menus to bring in guests who might not dine out again until spring if it weren’t for a chance to try restaurants that otherwise wouldn’t fit in their post-holiday budget.

Like the newer phenomenon of daily deals from Groupon, LivingSocial and others, Restaurant Weeks were created to introduce would-be patrons to local restaurants. While many likely won’t return until there’s another offer, some are destined to find dining experiences they want to repeat later, even if it means paying full price.

Events might prove even more important this year, as restaurants compete with bargain-price meals at quickservice and casual eateries and as they work to boost sales in an economy that’s still struggling with high unemployment and rising food prices.

In some markets, that means restaurants are adding features as well as celebrating milestones this year.

  • San Diego kicked off its eighth Restaurant Week on Sunday, with 180 eateries offering three-course dinners at $20, $30 and $40, depending on the restaurant. For the first time, participating restaurants are offering less-expensive two-course lunches for patrons who can’t make dinner.
  • Las Vegas aims to give tourists one more reason to hit town in the spring, with Restaurant Week in late February in addition to its annual summer foodie event.
  • New York City, where the tradition began, kicked off its 20th year of Restaurant Week, with 300 restaurants serving $35 dinners and $24.07 lunches — bargain prices that give even starving students and low-income workers a chance to try fine dining. Restaurants include Café Boulud and Le Cirque, where entrees typically start at about $35.
  • In other parts of the country, it’s not all about fine dining. South Carolina’s statewide event kicked off this week with 230 restaurants offering a wide range of culinary deals. They include butternut squash risotto with duck confit, pistachio-crusted pork, and pumpkin and spice creme brulee for about $30 at Devereaux’s as well as three kinds of wings for $18 at Wild Wing Café, according to The Greenville News reported.
  • Other cities are hosting smaller versions of Restaurant Week, including Michigan’s Ann Arbor and Birmingham, which signed 49 and 20 restaurants, respectively.

Are Restaurant Weeks a temporary solution for slow times or a way to boost business long term? Tell us in the comments.

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