For more than a decade, Triangle Restaurant Week has aimed to give area eaters access to a plethora of local restaurants for a reasonable prix fixe rate. For the ninth anniversary, which begins today and runs through Sunday, a record-setting 97 eateries are set to participate, with hopes of passing the 100 mark next year.

I spoke with Kelly Stewart of the marketing agency Triangle Blvd, the organization that produces the event, to talk about participation, return on investment and quality control for Triangle Restaurant Week.

The INDY is also sending a food writer to Triangle Restaurant Week each day, so check back for regular updates on the fare—and an essay next week on the fuss.

INDY: How did it Triangle Restaurant week begin?
KELLY STEWART: Next year will be our 10-year anniversary. Damon Butler, the CEO of Triangle Blvd, researched other restaurant weeks in larger cities like Boston and New York and decided that he wanted to bring it to the Triangle. The first year they tried it, in 2006, it was too small. The next year they had 40 restaurants.

I know it’s called Triangle Restaurant Week, but exactly how many cities are participating in this year’s event?

Currently, eight cities participate: Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Pittsboro, Apex, Morrisville, Cary and Clayton. Raleigh has the most restaurants, and Wake County covers about 60 percent. It’s grown dramatically every year. The summer of 2015, there were 92 restaurants. We’re hoping to break 100 by the 10-year anniversary. This winter, we have 97 restaurants participating.

Do you ever have to cut any place? How do you decide who participates?

No, we don’t cut. Anyone who applies can participate. It just has to make sense with the pricing because it’s a three-course meal that costs $15 for lunch and up to $30 for dinner. The restaurant has to have enough options. They can do whatever they want. They send us their menus, and we just say it’s subject to change in case there’s an emergency. It’s all based on the restaurants. They have to register and pay a fee, but it’s not expensive to be a part of our Restaurant Week. It costs $349 per week, but they also get a $250 credit from US Foods for orders, so really only $100 goes to advertising.

How has the week grown as the Triangle’s restaurant scene has grown?
New restaurants pop up all the time, and it’s good exposure for new restaurants to participate. It shows that they want to support the community. The growth in the restaurant scene in the area corresponds with the growth of the event because more and more restaurants want to be a part.

In your mind, what effect has hosting restaurant week had on the Triangle?
People get really excited. People have been making reservations for weeks now, and they want to go out in groups or as couples. I think it’s a fun community event where people can try something they’ve never tried before and hopefully they’ll go back. I also think it helps bring the cities together because, during the week, a lot of people travel to cities that they may not regularly go to.

Why do you think it’s important to host Restaurant Week?
It’s important because the Triangle is becoming recognized nationally with regard to its restaurants and chefs. It’s important because it lets the customers try some expensive restaurants at an affordable price. Maybe they’ll decide to go back.

Do you have any data or anecdotal evidence about people who visit for these meals and remain customers?
Our sponsor, OpenTable, has analytics about reservations during Restaurant Week, but I don’t know the exact number of people that come out or whether these people return as customers.