Belt loosening: Restaurant Week draws diners

If Ken Wooten at Orzo had one complaint about Restaurant Week, it would be that with the full seatings July 9-15, "A lot of our regulars didn't come in."

Perhaps that problem was offset by serving 150 dinners a night during what's normally a slow time of year.

"We saw a lot of new faces," says Wooten. "It's a way to get a segment of the community that normally wouldn't come in. It's their opportunity to sample a new restaurant."

Orzo was one of 16 restaurants participating in the three-course, $26-per-dinner extravaganza that's become a foodie tradition in Charlottesville. And there's a good-deed element to supping well, as one dollar from each meal is donated to the PB&J Fund, which helps kids in the community develop a healthy diet.

Since the Hook launched Restaurant Week in January 2009, the event has raised more than $55,000 for local charities. The Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, the recipient for the January Restaurant Week, received a check for nearly $13,000.

The numbers aren't in for the July Restaurant Week.

"It seemed quieter than the winter," says Stu Rifkin, a multi-restaurant executive who signed up the trio of Blue Light Grill, Ten, and Positively 4th Street for the semi-annual event.

"Everybody's feedback was positive," says Rifkin. "Especially at Ten. There's a perception that Ten is very expensive." (Rifkin doesn't necessarily agree and says that one can normally eat well for $35 at Ten, which is known for its sushi.)

Orzo offered its full dinner menu during the week– something not all restaurants do– and Wooten says people were pleased with the portions. He says Restaurant Week benefits the community in several ways: servers earn more during typically slow nights, kitchen staffs pull in overtime, and the city collects more in meal taxes.

"We don't make a ton of money," says Wooten. "But it's a good event for a number of reasons."