It seems like everywhere you turn these days, someone’s having a restaurant week. Chester County had one earlier this year. Philadelphia has them several times a year, including two consecutive weeks in September (12-24, not including Saturday, of course), and the reboot of Main Line Restaurant Week is slated for the week of September 27th.
The reason I won’t be participating in any of these Restaurant Weeks, or any others for that matter, is simple: They aren’t a good deal. It’s three courses for $30, you think – how could it not be a good deal? Well, consider the following:
You don’t need that much food. Do you order an appetizer, entree and dessert for yourself when you go out to eat? I’m a big guy with a big appetite, but I still don’t do that. When going out as a couple, sharing an appetizer and dessert along with an entree is PLENTY of food — in fact, even that, when paired with a few slices of bread, can be too much. When it comes to RW, I resist the temptation to look at a menu to see how much I’d be saving if I bought three courses at their regular price, because I’d never do that. Instead, I compare the “deal” to what I’d order if it wasn’t RW, and quite often it costs less, or only a few bucks more.
Let’s review Nectar, for example, a popular local restaurant and surely one that will be packed during Restaurant Week. If you order the three most expensive things on the RW menu from their regular menu — Tuna Tartar, Grilled Salmon and the Nectar Valrhona Torte — it’d cost $48pp (vs. $40 during RW). So yes, you’d save money versus buying those things on a regular night. (If you order the Moo Sho Chicken — which, interestingly, is Moo Shoo Duck on the regular menu — or the vegetarian dish, on the other hand, you’d be lucky to get to the $40pp cost of the RW menu.) But this doesn’t change the fact that it is more food than I’d normally order… unless, of course, the portions are considerably smaller than on a normal night, which, though I can’t say for sure is done by any restaurant in particular, is a common, somewhat underhanded tactic often used with these promotions.
The other major problem with Nectar’s offer (and with most offers) is that it is a limited menu. I wouldn’t order any of the RW options were I to eat there tonight. This doesn’t mean they don’t sound tasty — other items on the menu are simply more appealing. Here’s what I would get: we’d start with the chicken curry dumplings for our shared appetizer ($7.5), pick the short ribs ($27) and tea-smoked venison ($34) as entrees, and finish off by sharing their signature donut dessert ($9). This would cost us a grand total of $77. If you’re not keeping score, that’s $3 less than we’d pay for the RW menu, AND we got to pick the most appealing items (to us) from the full menu!
This reminds me of the last time I patronized a local establishment during Restaurant Week. It was my dad’s birthday, and it also happened to be Restaurant Week, so we put a group together and headed down to El Vez in Center City. It didn’t take us long to realize that the restaurant week special menu contained the most boring, straightforward choices they offered, and that if we really wanted to enjoy our experience, we were going to have to ditch the $30 deal. It was a special occasion, so we went for it: We shared a bunch of appetizers, each got entrees and shared a dessert or two. Some people spent more, some spent less. At the end of the meal, despite having gone way off our original script, we had spent only $32pp on food — a mere $2 over the restaurant week “deal”.
This isn’t to say it’s impossible to find a good deal during Restaurant Week. They surely do exist — but they are also more the exception than the rule, and it will certainly take extra effort to find them. Combine this with the fact that the RW buzz will make reservations harder to get, and likely make the restaurants more crowded than usual (which can lead to spotty service), and this Restaurant Week concept doesn’t seem so appealing.
Maybe you like Restaurant Week — maybe it’s a way for you to try new places, or get a chance to visit a place you otherwise couldn’t afford. I certainly hold nothing against those who enjoy it. Just do me a favor and make sure the “deal” that you are supposedly getting is actually a deal, and not just a way to rook you into spending your hard-earned cash on smaller portions and already overpriced drinks.
Do you LOVE or HATE restaurant week? Tell us why below.
P.S. If you’re a RW hater too, you might be interested in Avalon’s “Non-Restaurant Week” promotion.