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Kansas City Restaurant Week introduced me to Dining Experience at Kauffman Center

Founders Lounge, The Dining Experience at The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts
Founders Lounge, The Dining Experience at The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts

This year, Kansas City Restaurant Week provided my first opportunity to dine at the Kauffman Center for Performing Arts. The Dining Experience at The Kauffman Center was one of the event’s new participants.

I had the dinner menu and it was as lovely as the room and the view. My choices consisted of a Cognac-infused liver spread served with brioche toast, a poached chicken breast served over creamy polenta and carrot cake for dessert. I will go back.

While unable to provide final numbers from the week, the restaurant said it was pleased with the experience and the exposure.

“Since we only serve meals during performances, we’re in a bit of a different situation,” said Paul Schofer, president and chief executive officer of the Kauffman Center. “We just wanted the public to know we’re here with a wonderful ambiance, the best views in the city and some amazing chef-driven cuisine.”

With 185 participating restaurants, the 2016 Restaurant Week offered the largest number in the event’s history.

There is a bit of a caveat to the good news, though, as Mother Nature apparently took a bite out of profits with last week’s blast of winter.

The 10-day event officially wrapped up Sunday. I say officially because some restaurants, including those owned by Bread & Butter Concepts and Zocalo, decided to extend their Restaurant Week menus for a few days.

I wanted to know a little more about what was behind the move to continue offering the lunch and dinner menus, so I reached out to Tara Van Loenen, vice president of marketing and branding at Bread & Butter.

“Our restaurants noticed that our total donation was behind last year’s number,” Van Loenen said. “We wanted to extend the menus and offerings by three more days to hopefully make up for the discrepancy in donations. Bread & Butter Concepts wants KCRW and our donation to the charities to grow bigger and better each year.”

The restaurants, Van Loenen said, had a great response from online reviews and in-store comments, but there was a clear drop off in sales on colder and snowier days compared to last year.

It was a similar story at Jax Seafood House and Oyster Bar — great consumer response but lower overall numbers. However, general manager Tim Roy had a different explanation for the drop: price-point rather than bad weather.

“We sold 983 Restaurant Week meals in 2016 compared to 1,339 in 2015,” he said. “I can only credit the downturn to the fact that our menu is already friendly to the $33 Restaurant Week dinner price point. I know for a fact that while many diners indicated their intent to enjoy the restaurant week menu, some altered their plans while perusing the standard menu.”

Roy says the dip in Restaurant Week meals didn’t damper the enthusiasm at the restaurant.

“Our entire staff is tremendously pleased with the event,” he said. “KCRW enables a very busy 10 days during a month that historically is slow in the industry. Waiters and bartenders were fighting for shifts and showing up early with enthusiasm to serve the large turnout.”

The excitement extended into the back of the house as well.

“Our chefs were excited to serve some of the dishes that don’t appear on our everyday menu and to experiment with some new recipes,” he said. “An especially big hit was the prince Edward Island Mussels served in Boulevard Pale Ale broth. In fact, the popularity of that dish was so extreme that we may add it to the menu permanently.”

Dave Eckert is the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons.

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