February is a tough time of year. There's still snow on the ground -- and maybe more to come. Christmas bills keep rolling in and, perhaps worst of all, Uncle Sam is ready and waiting with his hand out for his annual dues.

In short, February is not the best month for the restaurant business.

But in Westport, restaurateurs are working hard to change all that. In an effort to serve up a tasty alternative to these drab winter days -- and perhaps cook up a little competition with the burgeoning restaurant scene in next-door Fairfield -- Westport on Sunday has kicked off its annual Restaurant Week. Sixteen of the town's restaurants are offering special prix-fixe lunch and dinner menus throughout the week until Saturday, March 5.

"We did it last year and had very positive results," said Nick Messina of Rizzuto's. "This is a slow time of year, so it's another venue to attract customers," he said. On this Sunday afternoon, the eatery known for its wood-fired pizzas was largely populated with families with small children.

Meanwhile, the venerable Tavern on Main was buzzing with people enjoying Sunday brunch or sitting at the bar enjoying Bloody Marys.

In the dining room, regular customers Dawna and Steven Grossman of Westport enjoyed their plates of Eggs Benedict. "It's always good here," said Dawna. "They treat us like family."

"We enjoy the consistent food quality," said Steven. Dawna agreed. "So consistent. We're foodies," she said. "We eat out a lot."

Westport Restaurant Week may be a bonus for regulars, but it's an opportunity for others to try new dining spots and menu items.

"It's a great way for people from outside of town to try our signature dishes at a reasonable price," said Hector Maneiro, owner of Tavern on Main.

"Before Restaurant Week, we get together with the staff and say we're not going to do anything different. We show the same hospitality and the same food consistency," Maneiro said. "We don't cut back on portions."

While the lunch menu will change every day at Tavern on Main, the dinner menu will remain the same throughout the week, with entrée choices such as Pan-Seared Branzino, Farfalle Pasta with Grilled Chicken, Asparagus and Tomato in a Pink Sauce, Grilled Filet Mignon and Salmon. Added to the entrée are a choice of appetizers and desserts for $30.11 per person.

Perhaps the special menus and prices ($15.11 to $30.11) will be a huge draw for diners to come and sample Westport fare, which the once-legendary restaurant scene has been somewhat overshadowed by Fairfield's in the last few years -- a development that has not escaped the notice of town zoning officials, who over the last year have revised regulations in an effort to boost the town's dining businesses.

It used to be that Westport was the obvious destination in the region for a special dining occasion. Now, Fairfield has become a dining hot spot, where numerous trendy eateries have opened recently both in the downtown business district as well as along Black Rock Turnpike.

Asked how he felt about the influx of competition from Fairfield restaurants, Maneiro said he understood. "People don't stay late in Westport," he said. "Fairfield is like a little Stamford." But, he added, people follow tradition, and Westport Restaurant Week is a way for people to try new things and start a new tradition.

So the prix-fixe promotion is one way that local restaurant owners and culinary boosters hope to shift the spotlight back to its former focus.

For more information about Westport Restaurant Week, and a list of participating restaurants, visit www.westportwestonchamber.com.