On the Go: Cleveland Restaurant Week shifts to take-out only format

Last March, the coronavirus pandemic forced restaurants to close their dining rooms and prompted Cleveland Independents to cut short its Restaurant Week. Organizers of the twice-yearly event that celebrates locally-owned eateries are hoping this spring will be the last time they will feature solely to-go menus, instead of dine-in options, during the upcoming Cleveland Restaurant Week To Go.

“Exactly a year ago, when we had Restaurant Week, we had to cut out the second week because of the pandemic,” says Myra Orenstein, acting executive director of Cleveland Independents. “And 95% of our members are doing take-out dining [right now].”

Therefore, as the organization did in its November event, Orenstein says Restaurant Week will once again be “To Go,” but she hopes it’s for the last time. “To me, this is the final hurdle,” she says.

The spring event starts this Thursday, March 18 and runs through the end of the month, Wednesday, March 31. While the typical $33 prix fixe dine-in menus aren’t available with the To Go version, Orenstein says there are plenty of great deals—including cocktails at many establishments.

And even though March is typically a slow month for restaurants in Cleveland, Orenstein says the ongoing pandemic has made business even slower in a time when restaurants are struggling.

“We left it pretty open because the goal is to generate as much revenue as possible right now,” Orenstein says.

The special menus from 32 participating restaurants around Greater Cleveland are available on the Restaurant Week website.  

Orenstein says the restaurants have designed some unique menus to allow diners to choose items or multi-course meals they normally wouldn’t order.

“It’s a great way to do it because the pricing is usually better, so you can try a bunch of restaurants," she explains. "It’s a great way to figure out what you really like, and then when the patios open you can go to that restaurant.”

This is the 15th year of Cleveland Restaurant Week. “This is the restaurant week that put Cleveland on the culinary map,” says Orenstein. “Fifteen years ago, other metropolitan areas had restaurant weeks, so we started Cleveland Independents Restaurant Week. We normally have 35 to 40 restaurants, and we’ve had as many as 95 restaurants involved, and we see a very small attrition rate. It speaks to how supportive Northeast Ohio has been.”

Orenstein also stresses the value Cleveland Independents gift cards, which are treated the same as cash by member restaurants. “You treat it just like cash—use it for meals, for alcohol, for the tip. And you get cash back if you don’t use the entire amount.”

The cards can be purchased in $25 increments. Additionally, many member restaurants are currently offering sale prices on gift certificates.

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.