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A record 95 local restaurants participating this year in the annual Sizzle Dining event in Southwest Florida translated into a record of nearly 50,000 meals served during its three weeks.  

The Sept. 7-27 restaurant week fundraiser sold 48,884 prix fixe three-course dinners or two-course lunches from the special Sizzle Dining menus to benefit the Southwest Florida chapter of Blessings in a Backpack, which receives a dollar from every meal sold.   

“Collectively, the restaurants helped raise $48,884 for Blessings in a Backpack of Southwest Florida for an average of 510 meals sold per restaurant. That beats last year’s average of 471 when we only had 47 restaurants participating,” said Guy Clarke, co-founder of Sizzle Dining. “What a year this has been. We passed the litmus test of having 95 restaurants participating and came out a winner. Myself and the restaurants were worried about having this many join at once, but it all worked out and the restaurants reported a great response from the community.”  

The annual fall event encourages residents and visitors to “dine with purpose” to directly benefit the regional chapter of Blessings in a Backpack, which serves children who are most at risk of being food insecure. Those dollars stay in Southwest Florida to provide meals to food-insecure elementary school students every weekend throughout the school year.  

“The event’s success demonstrates that one dollar at a time can make a profound difference in the lives of those in need,” Clarke said.  

Cecilia St. Arnold, executive director of Blessings in a Backpack of Southwest Florida, expressed her gratitude for the dining-out event.  

“Blessings in a Backpack is thankful to be the beneficiary of Sizzle Dining, and it’s heartwarming to know that restaurants are stepping up to help ensure that our local children have access to food on the weekends,” St. Arnold said. “This kind of support and community involvement will make a significant difference in the lives of those who need it most.”  

Sizzle Dining built upon its success of selling more than 22,000 meals last year, even with a schedule shortened by Hurricane Ian. Designed to showcase the vibrant culinary landscape of Lee and Collier counties, Clarke said the event exceeded all expectations this year.  

“I would have been delighted to secure the participation of 50 restaurants this year, but we nearly doubled that number,” he said.  

The previous record for the number of participating restaurants was 69 in 2019. This year’s event spanned from Cape Coral and Sanibel Island to Marco Island, reaching every edge of the Paradise Coast. 

Paul Beirnes, executive director of Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention & Visitors Bureau, is pleased with the success of the Collier County tourism agency’s inaugural partnership with Sizzle Dining this year.  

“The event not only showcased our destination’s outstanding restaurants and culinary talent but also supported a vital charitable organization helping food-insecure children in our community,” Beirnes said. “In the traditionally slower month of September, we aimed to promote our Florida offerings to residents and domestic visitors.”  

More than just a culinary celebration, Sizzle Dining is a catalyst for positive change, fostering an economic boost, local revenue and job growth, customer loyalty and community pride, Clarke said.  

Erin Clarke, co-founder of the event, expressed gratitude to Sizzle Dining’s 2023 sponsors, which included Porsche of Naples, National Chemicals Inc., Farmer Mikes Foodservice and the Toast point-of-sale company. “We thank them for their commitment to the cause and the spirit of community collaboration which helped make the event a resounding success,” she said.  

Plans for Sizzle Dining 2024 have begun with numerous restaurants in Lee and Collier counties already committing to participate next year, Clarke said.  

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