As a number of local eateries get ready to take part in Omaha Restaurant Week, they're hoping their participation helps bring in more business during a tough economy.
"Newer restaurants might be struggling a bit more," said John Horatinovich, General Manager of Hiro 88's 129th & West Maple location, "because you're forced to those Groupons and the daily deals. And you're only able to get those customers in for a short period of time."
He said he's got a fairly steady clientele, with his restaurant's Asian fusion style going over well. The restaurant is nine years old now and has a downtown location as well.
Horatinovich isn't a fan of the online deals that have really caught on with consumers over the past few years. "Everyone likes a good deal. I like a good deal, being a dad of four. But I think what those sites have done is kind of dumbed down service."
He's hoping by taking part in Omaha Restaurant Week, discerning customers will see the value in his menu. They're offering a prix fris, or fixed price menu, of entrees ranging from Teriyaki Beef to Braised Shrimp to Salmon Plank, with an appetizer, wine and dessert, for $39. Some other restaurants have price points at $19 and $29, as well.
Restaurants must pay to take part in the promotion; however, a portion of their cost goes directly to the Food Bank for the Heartland. Some restaurants, though not Hiro 88, are even collecting non-perishable food items during the event which runs September 14 - 23.
Added business, it's hoped, will help offset some of the recent economic challenges. For one - the drought, which is beginning to impact wholesale food prices. "We're seeing a lot more of that affect fuel prices," said Horatinovich. "Different things like the candles we use on our tables have doubled in price," he said, to offset the gasoline costs involved in transportation.
"Usually what a (struggling) restaurant does first is they usually trim down their portion sizes or reduce their hours," he said. "We've done neither. In fact, we've increased (our) hours." Adding a "happy hour" special, he said, has brought in more customers who crave the atmosphere without the expense.
And customers tend to tighten up their wallets, said long-time server Sammy Moriyama said, after a Husker loss like this past weekend. "We wish that they would win every weekend, it does show financially."
As far as the economy's impact on tips, he said, it's minimal. The one thing he has noticed recently, "They don't go out as much."