March 28, 2013 10:17:31 AM
Carl Smith - [email protected]
Tourism officials say Starkville Restaurant Week produced almost 10,500 charity ballots last week.
How impressive is that figure? Greater Starkville Development Partnership CEO Jennifer Gregory says that total eclipses the total collected during similar week-long events in Jackson. There, the high mark stands at approximately 6,000 votes, she said.
Starkville Conventions and Visitors Bureau Board members met Wednesday to discuss data associated with the event, including increased restaurant business, charity votes and marketing data.
A press conference was scheduled for 11 a.m. today at Cadence Bank Plaza to unveil the charity recipient of a $5,000 donation. Participating Starkville Restaurant Week locations provided diners a ballot every time they purchased an entrée during the event.
Previously, SCVB officials nominated three local charities - Sally Kate Winters Family Services, Oktibbeha County Humane Society and the Reclaimed Project - for the inaugural event's donation.
Thirty-two local restaurants participated in the event which generated 10,432 total ballots, Gregory told SCVB members Wednesday. The undisclosed charity won by 641 votes. Restaurants averaged 325 votes, but Amy Yates, The Veranda's marketing manager and a SCVB board member, said the restaurant collected 1,300 ballots.
"I think this is a model that works well in a small town," Gregory said. "We really saw the community come out and get behind our restaurants and these charities."
Restaurant Tyler and Old Venice restaurant managers said Sunday their establishments saw about a 20 percent increase in patron traffic during Starkville Restaurant Week. Gregory again confirmed this estimation Wednesday and said participating businesses are still tabulating returns from last week.
Community development officials will track 2 percent food and beverage tax figures to determine economic impact once they are released in the coming months.
Gregory also said she is soliciting feedback from the 32 restaurants in order to better the event next year. Some confusion was created with which menu items automatically included ballots. Participating restaurants were encouraged to create a special menu for the week which highlighted that establishment's culinary capabilities. Although all entrees should have included voting ballots, some restaurants only gave them out with orders off those special menus.
Gregory said the special menu aspect could be removed before next year's event. Also, a place for voters to record their zip codes on the ballots could be added in order to help officials track how well-attended the event is by out-of-town diners.
"The point is to get people eating in the restaurants, whether that's their favorite meal or something off the special menu," she told SCVB members.
Starkville Restaurant Week promotions also brought more people to the SCVB's event website. Traffic analysis showed the site experienced approximately 5,000 visitors from Feb. 1 to Tuesday. The site saw a February peak during the charity nomination process and a March peak Monday when Starkville Restaurant Week began, Gregory said.
"That's a little less traffic than we get in two months on our regular site," she said.
Email addresses collected from the charity ballots for validation purposes will be added to the GSDP's email list for future promotions. Those individuals contacted by the Partnership have the ability to opt out of mailings.
Data also showed a 25 percent open rate for promotional emails associated with the event, Gregory said. The national open rate average for promotions is about 20 percent. In comparison, unWine Downtown's spring event had an approximately 60 percent open rate, she said.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch