New York Restaurant Week has officially kicked off — much to the chagrin of NYC foodies.
For the uninitiated, Restaurant Week is when hundreds of establishments, from fine dining standbys to hip new eateries, offer special prix fixe lunches and dinners for $25 and $38, respectively. The event actually runs four weeks, through August 16th.
There are a few places out there where the special prix fixe is as good a deal as the regular menu (here are a few restaurants that are worth checking out). But by and large, foodies groan when the bi-annual event rolls around.
It’s Bad For Customers
At first glance, Restaurant Week seems like a win-win for both restaurants and guests. Customers pay a fixed (and ostensibly lower) price while getting to try a new restaurant and its specialties.
But here’s the thing: There are a ton of people who turn out for Restaurant Week. “Amateur eaters” are seduced by the seemingly low prices and a desire to experience a high-end or new NYC restaurant. Thanks to them, wait times can stretch on, and service may lag due to the sheer volume of orders and tables.
The quality of food often drops, too. Cheaper types of fish like salmon, or meats like chicken breast, that may not appear on the standard menu show up on the prix fixe as a way for owners to save money with the “special” Restaurant Week menus.
For example, none of the Restaurant Week entrées offered at Le Cirque this year — like Roasted Free Range Chicken and Grilled Atlantic Salmon — are on either the regular lunch or dinner menus.
Portions are often smaller as well. A common complaint I’ve heard from friends who go out during Restaurant Week (and experienced myself) is that salads or entrées are reduced to half their size at their favourite spot.
Taking all of this into consideration, those $25 and $38 prix fixe costs suddenly don’t seem like the best deal. Since drinks, tax, and tip aren’t included in those “flat” fees either, diners looking for cheap eats would be better off turning to Groupon, LivingSocial, or OpenTable’s Spotlight to get a better deal with items that are actually on the regular menu.
It’s (Sometimes) Bad For Restaurants
Restaurant Week can certainly be great for restaurants — it amps up exposure and brings in new customers during winter and late summer, two of the slowest times of the year.
“NYC Restaurant Week is a good opportunity to showcase your restaurant to people who may have otherwise not dined with you,” Chris Leahy of Midtown’s Lexington Brass told us.
But it can also have the opposite affect. Crowds and long wait times annoy a restaurant’s best customers, and those deal-seeking diners are not necessarily going to come back. Which is really bad, given that increasing repeat business for restaurants is one of the main goals of a publicity program such as Restaurant Week.
It can also be rough on the servers who schlep for unappreciative diners throughout the three-week event: “In some restaurants, servers aren’t so happy,” Anthony Mardach, the Director of Operations for Porter House (which offers a similarly-priced prix fixe year-round), told us. “It can lower the check average, and servers can make less money.”
Once tax and drinks are factored in, guests realise they’re spending as much as $50 for that “$25 lunch.” With cheap eaters, it’s the servers’ tips that take the hit.
Ultimately, Restaurant Week can be a pain. But if you do decide to go, here are some tips for doing it right:
- Do your research — some menus might be dumbed down, especially the ones that are usually $100+ a person. Try to find restaurants that stick as close to their main menu as possible (check out what this year’s Restaurant Week menus look like here).
- Make a reservation, especially at your favourite spot. Restaurant Week is always busy, and you might not be able to get in.
- Don’t be afraid to call if a restaurant is booked. Sometimes, restaurants will extend their promotions after Restaurant Week (or offer the prix fixe year round). Plus, it never hurts to make sure there are no cancellations!
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