This year’s program will include 60 restaurants.
It’s an uncertain time, and going out to eat can be a uncertain proposition. Visit Sarasota County, though, is hoping to highlight Sarasota’s many eateries with its Savor Sarasota Restaurant initiative. The 15th annual program offers multicourse lunch and dinner meals at a discount of $16 or $32 running through Sunday, June 14.
“Whether dining in or taking your meals to-go, Savor Sarasota is about experiencing your favorite restaurants, and trying new ones,” said VSC President Virginia Haley in a statement. "And, we all know our local restaurants could use a boost right now.”
Visit Sarasota County vice president Erin Duggan has been with Visit Sarasota County since the initiative began — originally a spirits showcase – and has seen its variations and developments since. The initial reason for the program was two-pronged; Duggan remembers research saying people didn’t consider Sarasota to be a culinary hotspot, and that many restaurants, even those on Main Street, would slow or close in the summer.
“One issue was how do we put Sarasota County on the culinary map,” Duggan said. “And then the second issue was we were seeing a lot of our restaurants shutting down sometimes in the summer. They felt like business just really dried up after Memorial Day,'' Duggan said.
Around 25 higher-end eateries composed the initial lineups starting in 2006, but more and more restaurants have joined. Some years have upward of 100 participating restaurants, but around 60 restaurants will be part of this year’s initiative. Duggan says she suspects the COVID-19 pandemic has put too much on restaurant’s plates to participate in an additional program.
"We’re trying to create a value (offering),” Duggan said. “It is a value to go to Michael's On East and have a three-course dinner for $32.''
Beyond the $16 and $32 price levels, restaurants customize their offerings and include more food if they see fit. Duggan says higher-end restaurants stick to a single entree, appetizer and dessert, while others have several options and discounted drinks.
Collin Benyo, general manager of The Melting Pot on Ringling Boulevard, has been part of the initiative for the past 13 years.
A typical four-course meal at Melting Pot — which includes cheeses, salads, pastas and meats, and finally a chocolate dessert — will run $40 or more, but is bumped down to $32. Benyo says the security of the price brings in customers who have been putting off a trip to the restaurant.
“We're not going to go for what normal margins are,” Benyo said. “But at the same time you only run Savor Sarasota for so long and the fact is that you bring in so much attention to your store from people who've never been before … it’s absolutely worth the price reduction.”
Alex Simpson, marketing coordinator for the Tableseide Restaurant Group, says both Libby's Neighborhood Brasserie restaurants in Sarasota and Lakewood Ranch are participating. There will be two courses for $16 for lunch and a three-course $32 dinner option.
“We're still trying to be really conscious of the state of our local economy and just really trying to provide a lot of value for anyone coming in,” she said.
As would be expected given the current conditions, a new feature Visit Sarasota is spotlighting this year is the takeout option.
Prices for the meals have varied, but Duggan hopes the $16 and $32 offerings to stay for a few years.
You can find information on eligible restaurants at www.SavorSarasota.com