January 29, 2014 10:03:21 AM
Carl Smith - [email protected]
Greater Starkville Development Partnership officials hope to build upon the inaugural Starkville Restaurant Week's success this year with minor tweaks aimed to streamline the event.
This year's Restaurant Week is scheduled for March 17-23. Nominations for the event's charity aspect are open until Feb. 17 and can be made at http://starkvillerestaurantweek.com/nominate.
Last year, patrons filled the city's 32 participating restaurants during the week after spring break for a chance to experience Starkville's culinary offerings. The event specifically targeted Mississippi residents who live in a 60-mile radius -- about an hour's drive -- of Starkville, attempting to bring them into the city and plant the seed for future trips.
To drive restaurant visits, the Partnership created a friendly competition between local charities. Three Golden Triangle organizations -- Sally Kate Winters Family Services, Oktibbeha County Humane Society and the Reclaimed Project -- were picked out of numerous nominations as the potential recipient of a $5,000 donation, which was then chosen based upon votes cast by diners during the week.
Diners cast almost 11,000 ballots last year, a figure that eclipsed the total previously collected in Jackson during similar events by almost 5,000 votes. Those ballots also assisted tourism officials in tracking the event's advertising effectiveness and the cities from which diners came.
OCHS won the local competition by about 600 votes.
The $5,000 grand prize will return this year, but GSDP CEO Jennifer Gregory said the organization is attempting to secure additional corporate sponsors for second- and third-place donations, though those values are not yet determined. Cadence Bank is again sponsoring this year's grand prize.
All three charities from last year's competition are again eligible for this year's event. Starkville Conventions and Visitors' Bureau officials are expected to announce the finalists in February.
The week's restaurant push was measured financially when Starkville recorded its second-highest March in regard to 2 percent food and beverage tax returns. The city previously averaged about $132,000 in those returns until it collected $142,697.36 last year. The increase represented an 11.52 percent boost in 2 percent revenues from 2012. Many restaurant owners and managers estimated they saw a 15 percent to 20 percent increase in business.
A portion of the 2 percent tax returns to the city, while the remainder is split between various organizations, including tourism initiatives, Starkville Parks and Mississippi State University student programs.
"It's really important to do (Restaurant Week) then because typically the week after spring break is slow for the restaurants -- many people are coming off trips and don't go out. There's such a wide variety in restaurant prices that anyone can participate," Gregory said. "Our primary goal is to promote Starkville as a restaurant destination and bring attention to our local businesses. If (out-of-town diners) come in and have a good experience, we hope they'll be inclined to come back, shop and eat again. We think this event will continue to grow in the future."
The Partnership dropped a rule requiring participating restaurants to develop special menus during Restaurant Week, a change aimed at easing demands placed upon the businesses. The adjustment reflects the only minor tweak made to the Partnership's formula.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch