Residents throughout the Lehigh Valley had an incentive to dine in Bethlehem’s historic North Side this past week, as the Downtown Bethlehem Association sponsored its bi-annual Restaurant Week.
For over 10 years, local eateries on the North Side have hosted a week-long event filled with discounted food options and fixed menus. Most restaurants who participate are part of the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce, which sponsors the event in an effort to bring an influx of customers to the North Side during a relatively quiet dining season.
Tim Brooks, Downtown Bethlehem Association manager, said restaurants look forward to Restaurant Week because it helps them during a slow time of the year. He said it even benefits the local residents.
“If people are looking for a particular price point, they get to save money and experience different dining options,” Brooks said.
The event. which began Jan. 27, aims to encourage more visitors and foot traffic on the North Side. This year, record-breaking temperatures and snowfall forced organizers to extend the event until Thursday, Feb. 7, four days longer than originally scheduled.
At the end of the week, there is a wrap-up meeting where all the participating restaurants discuss everyone’s performance.
Megan Brennan, a manager at Bethlehem Brew Works, said she noticed an influx of customers during Restaurant Week, especially during lunch.
“During the summer there’s generally more people walking around so we see a bigger draw in the winter,” Brennan said.
At Brew Works, they try to debut new menu items during Restaurant Week to see customers’ reactions to them. They try to have a variety of menu items, such as vegetarian options, that people can choose from and provide feedback.
Travis Barnes, ’20, has worked at Twisted Olive since summer 2017. He said the restaurant stays organized during the event despite the higher volume of food that is ordered.
“It’s a very big change,” Barnes said. “For most restaurants, your busy days are weekends, but during restaurant week, everyday is like a weekend. It’s constantly busy.”
Barnes, however, said he doesn’t think Restaurant Week plays a big role in getting students to dine in the North Side. While Lehigh students do contribute to the restaurant’s business, he said he believes the Lehigh community is more active on the North Side during special occasions, like family weekend.
The event’s proximity to campus isn’t designed to try and bridge the gap between North Bethlehem and South Bethlehem, but Barnes said it does help integrate Lehigh students more into the local community.
“Since it happens so infrequently, some Lehigh students get excited and find their way over with their friends,” he said.
The more people that come to the restaurants, the better. Engagement is crucial for the Downtown Bethlehem Association, and it wants as many visitors as possible to participate in the event.
There’s a strong digital presence to market the opportunities during Restaurant Week, and engagement goes as far as the menus. Brooks said customers can text a number from a menu at a participating restaurant for a chance to win gift cards.
The goal of these restaurants, however, stays constant throughout the group — get as many people as possible to come eat.
“Anything that will bring business to the downtown area, we’re game for,” Brennan said. “Even if they don’t dine with us, they’ll see our name and hopefully come back another time.”