Value Meal 2.0

Hungry? Forget the combo meal. The $1 menu seems to be taking over the world of fast food.
Not only does the value meal provide diners with enough calories to sustain them for the next day and a half, but it also comes at a lower price than the old sandwich, fries and a drink outfit.
While supply seems to have found the right hoops to jump through to meet recession-time demand, the casual and upscale dining sectors are stuck with soft sales. Locally owned restaurants, without the advertising budgets and marketing teams of the national chain, have been getting creative.
Tuck Curren, owner of Biga Vino e Cucina and The Local Table, both at 44th and Peoria, is known as the granddaddy of the Tulsa wine dinner.
He put his multiple-course, casual wine dinners on the program at Biga to give the restaurant a hook that would pull customers back to the restaurant again and again.
Curren owes the first nine years of growth at Biga to his wine-dinner strategy.
“That is the key to what made this grow,” he said.
Wine and beer dinners have been attracting Curren devotees to The Local Table, too, since it opened in 2007.
The dinners, ranging three to five courses, each paired with wine, can be priced as low as $30. Needless to say, Curren packs the house.
“I’ve been doing wine dinners for 15 years, and the higher the price for them goes, the more boring they are and the fewer people will come back,” Curren said. “As much as people say they want a $50 bottle of wine, most people want to have fun.”
“When people have fun at your restaurant, they talk about you, spread the word,” he said.
For Curren, these dinners aren’t just a way to get the word circulating about his two Brookside restaurants. Rather, they’re a lucrative part of his business.
“I always make money on them,” he said. “I’m not in them for nothing.”
Curren opened The Local Market, a prepared meals shop next door to and inspired by The Local Table, in March. While he’s not yet sure if the new venture is leading new customers into his restaurants, it is already earning its keep.
“The nights my regular customers are not going out, they’re coming here to get something,” Curren said.
Taking a cue from his former employer from the days when he worked for Curren at Bodean Seafood Restaurant, Tim Baker, owner of The Brasserie Restaurant & Bar and Sonoma Bistro & Wine Bar, both just north of Curren’s outfits at 35th and Peoria, has worked with The Brasserie chef Justin Thompson to offer low-cost tasting dinners every week. They went into the line up of offerings at The Brasserie last fall.
The four- and five-course dinners are $35 and, with wine, $50. On Sundays, patrons with reservations get the entire shebang for the $35 price.
“We’re maintaining our restaurant as a high-level, destination restaurant. We’re good for business meetings, and our neighbors are still using our restaurant. The special occasion stuff is going to be soft until people have more money. We get that. We’ve just decided not to change our brand, our concept, because we think it’s a good one.”
KEO Restaurant, the Brookside Asian eatery owned by Zahidah and Bill Hyman, planted just across the street from The Brasserie, has hosted a prix fixe menu available Monday through Wednesday since October. It features three courses – an appetizer, an entree and a dessert – for $20.
“It seemed like every radio station, on every TV, in all the newspapers was this doom and gloom about the economy,” Bill Hyman said. “The first special I told our customers about I called the Recession Special – just trying to be funny about the whole thing.”
The prix fixe menu changes monthly “to give people some different things to try,” Hyman said. “It gives our customers the opportunity to try things they may not have otherwise tried at our place.”
Past prix fix menus have featured Thai sweet basil with rice and tempura calamari with Thai coconut sauce and fresh basil; this month the menu centers on a Cambodian spring roll, seafood noodle stir fry and a Cambodian shrimp and noodle soup.
Meals like these “aren’t really money-makers for us,” Hyman said, mentioning Zahidah, head chef at KEO, is working on a menu for a four-course sake dinner to add to the prix fixe offerings at the restaurant.
“You think about having four glasses of sake and four courses, for $50 – it can’t make money. But, it’ll get people in the door,” he said.
Matt and Brooke Kelley, owners of Lucky’s Restaurant at 1536 E. 15th St., aren’t patient enough to wait on an uptick in foot traffic. They’re going after new customers on the Web, using social networking tools Twitter and Facebook to spread the word about what’s going on at Lucky’s, in real time.
“I was very excited,” said Brooke Kelley, the woman behind the Lucky’s profiles on and @LuckysTulsa on “The minute I discovered it, I thought, ‘Think of how many people I could reach.’ The response was huge, instant.”
Kelley also uses e-mail marketing, sending Lucky’s newsletters to a Web-based following of about 4,000.
“These are great, free tools we use to use to put into people’s brains, ‘Look at this photo of our cheeseburgers. Come to our restaurant for dinner.’”

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