August Is Still Slow for Restaurants, But It Used to Be Worse

Nine years ago, in Mandu’s first year of business, chef and owner Danny Lee remembers how every restaurant suffered in August. It was the worst month by far.

“Old school D.C., everybody left,” echoes chef and restaurateur Jeff Black. By “old school,” Black means pre-9/11, when the economy was red hot. Now, Black sees a lot more people staying in the area, although August affects different parts of the city differently. His Logan Circle restaurant Pearl Dive Oyster Palace slows down because “a lot of that demographic goes to the beach in the summertime.” But his suburban restaurants remain fairly busy.

The problem with August now, Black says, is not so much that sales are down but that they’re uneven, which makes it harder to plan orders and staffing. For example, Black’s Bar & Kitchen in Bethesda had a terrible lunch last week. But the next day? “I had to get on the line [in the kitchen] because it’s so busy,” Black says. “And I’m in street clothes.”

For Black, February is actually the worst month of the year. It’s a short month and often so cold that many people don’t want to leave their homes. Black says the second half of August and first half of September are the second worst. That’s when he tries to get his managers to go on vacation and schedule projects for the restaurants.

“I don’t even like getting media coverage in August because a lot of people are away,” says Black. If he’s doing a new menu release or wants to announce a new chef, he’ll try to wait a month.

Black admits Restaurant Week can be a nice bridge to September. Restaurants involved in the promotion last summer saw 16 percent more in revenue than the weeks before and after, according to a joint study between OpenTable, Venga, and the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington. They also saw a 40 percent increase in reservations during that week.

Even restaurants that don’t participate in Restaurant Week often feel the need to do something for a boost. “You definitely up your game in August,” says Bar Pilar partner and general manager Jonathan Fain. While the 14th Street haunt doesn’t do Restaurant Week, Bar Pilar is planning to do an Industry Week with Monday brunch and late-night specials this month.



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