Is Restaurant Week Even a Good Deal?

Restaurant_Week_Food_PornHave you heard of restaurant week?  Most large metropolitan cities have some form of it, but the general idea is that you pay a discounted rate for a three course price fixed dinner at a top restaurant in your city.  In San Diego, the options are for $20/$30/$40 dinners at over 150 restaurants.  There are obviously quite a few options and three courses for $20-$40 may sound like a good deal but I’m here to tell you, it’s not.

The premise of restaurant week is that restaurants you may not normally visit will lower their prices and offer their best dishes or most creative items in order to lure you back in the future.  If this is what actually happened, I’d be all for restaurant week.  But all too often, restaurant week brings out large crowds, menus are extremely limited and the value just isn’t there.  The whole process reminds me of my argument against using Groupons since generally these businesses turn to these extreme methods for attracting customers for a reason: their food isn’t very good.  That’s not quite the case with Restaurant Week but I think it’s important to take a step back and see if you’re actually getting a good deal.

RW Brings Out the Masses

Restaurant week in San Diego has a pretty loyal following so when the time comes you can expect all the top restaurants to be packed.  Weekends are generally booked weeks in advance at the best restaurants and should you get a prime reservation, expect the service to be lacking.  Participating restaurants are taking in less money than normal, which means tips will be lower and lower tips means unhappy servers.  Would you want to work restaurant week if you knew you’d be getting paid less and working harder?

Now I know not every restaurant is like this during restaurant week, but I’ve had more bad experiences than good over the past 10 years.  Nowadays, I like to look for restaurants that do an extended restaurant week the week after or the week before RW.  That allows some time for the crowds to die down and you can expect better service when you dine.

Mac N Cheese…Really?

Although restaurant week started out as an opportunity for restaurants to showcase their cuisine, I think it’s turned into more of a marketing gimmick.  Most restaurants seem to offer more of a low cost meal that allows them to still make a profit.  Here are some items I’m tired of seeing on restaurant week menus:

  • Mac N Cheese – No matter how much cheese and what types of fancy named cheese you put in there it still tastes like Mac N Cheese.
  • Truffle Fries – When did french fries topped with fancy oil and parmesan become a french delicacy?
  • Short Ribs – I love the taste of short ribs, but it’s one of the cheapest cuts of meat and no matter what you dress it up with, it’s still a fatty piece of meat.

Even with a limited menu, some restaurants are still a good deal, but ordering drinks can eat into your savings.  There’s no restaurant week prices on alcohol so you could blow all your savings right there.  It’s hard for me to pay $40 for a meal and another $20 for a glass of wine but I’m a lot cheaper than most people.  I would probably just sit there all throughout dinner thinking how my wine cost half of the price of my dinner.

There are definitely some good deals to be had for $20 or $30 but I usually won’t bother with any of the $40 options because by sharing an appetizer and dessert I could probably beat out the restaurant week pricing with my fiancee.  If we don’t order drinks, we can go to pretty much any top restaurant and share an appetizer, each get a main dish and share a dessert for less than $80.

So if you’re considering dining out this restaurant week, make sure you do your research.  Take a look at what will be served on their fixed menu and if you could re-create something better on another night of the week.  If you think you’ve found somewhere that’s worth it, then go for it!

Readers, do you find restaurant week to be a good deal?  I’ve found one great meal for $20 that I may go back to this year, but other than that I’ve been pretty disappointed.

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Hi, I'm Harry, the owner and head writer for Your PF Pro. I started this site back in 2011 in order to create a place where young professionals could come and get all of their financial questions answered. On the site, you'll find articles on everything from asset allocation for retirement to saving money at Chipotle! So enjoy..

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  1. says

    They have it where we live as well and never go to it. We really don’t go out to eat a whole lot as we’d rather save our money and plus…have you ever gone out with three kids under the age of 5? It’s not pretty man. :)

    • says

      That’s a good point, kids ruin everything haha. But I do have a couple friends with kids who do babysitting trades where one family will babysit the other’s kids so they can go out to dinner and vice versa the next month.

  2. says

    I have been pretty disappointed every time I bought a restaurant deal. Even if the food is good, it just seems like they inflate the price of everything to justify a “50% off dinner” when in fact you could eat the same thing next door for about the same price.

    • says

      I definitely agree. We just went out last night for my birthday and got one appetizer, two entrees and dessert at a very nice restaurant for $60 and we got to pick whatever we wanted. We weren’t set on a price fixed menu :)

    • says

      I feel the exact same way. It’s too bad too because the idea of restaurant week is pretty cool. There are a lot of nice restaurants that I want to try but am too cheap/can’t afford to go to. $40 per person is still a lot so I still want to get good food if I go.

  3. says

    We rarely eat out unless it’s a meal on the go, so frankly, I’d never heard of restaurant week. I wonder if we even have it in Kansas City?

    Anyway, I could totally see how they’ve used it into a marketing ploy and only promote menu items where they have the highest profit margin.

    • says

      Oh yea you’ve got it! haha KC restaurant week starts on Jan. 18. I think the general trend has been to promote the items with the highest profit margin but there’s still a few gems out there. I’d go on chowhound forum or ask around and see what your friends say.

  4. Eric says

    RW at Ruth’s Chris is stellar. $40 for Seared Ahi appetizer, a good sized Filet Mignon, a side dish big enough for two people (I like the Mashed Potatoes) and a great dessert.

    I was also impressed with the quality of their service. I always assumed the servers would not be having a good time with RW, but I’ve never had a problem. The money I save during RW, I put towards a tip for my waiter.

    • says

      I’ve never been to Ruth’s Chris for RW but their food is pretty awesome. I love their ribeye, mashed potatoes and mushrooms! But the last couple times I’ve went in they had a deal very similar to RW where you could choose an appetizer, main dish, side dish and a dessert for $45. I figured the ribeye would be smaller than the normal portion but it was just as big. Made a nice ribeye sandwich for lunch the next day too. The restaurant was pretty crowded for a Friday night, can’t imagine it could get much more crowded during RW so maybe the good service would hold up.

  5. Del D says

    We have it here in Kansas City as well. I decided last year to take the $30.00 per visit I would have spent,(we usually went to aleast 3 places), donate it directly to Harvesters Food Bank. Then go to my favorite restaurants after the week is over. That way everyone wins.

    • says

      Wow that’s very nice of you and a great idea too. I’ve only been to KC once but they have some great food and I like that open downtown area with all those great restaurants and bars.

  6. Matt Falk says

    Long time reader, first time caller. I have gone to a couple RW restaurants in downtown SD this time around, and some are doing pretty well in getting me to come back again. One option ($30 option)opened up their entire menu for an appetizer, entree, and dessert/speciality cocktail, a dinner that would normally cost ~$50-60 a person. Hoping to see more like this in the future. I do agree that RW should be about what you should expect to find on the menu the next time you come back rather than special dishes (that aren’t so special, as with your mac and cheese example) catered to special events.

    • says

      Nice, that sounds like a good deal. I wouldn’t mind spending the money if it was a quality restaurant and they opened up the entire menu. And anytime you can get 50% off, I’d say it’s probably worth it!

      Btw, my favorite SD restaurant week deal is at Wine Vault in Mission Hills. It’s $20 for a 3 course meal and you can do a wine pairing for $20 too. So 3 courses and 3 wines :) And the best part is that they do an extended restaurant week so you may be able to still try them out this week when the crowds have died down a bit.

  7. says

    I went to Donovan’s last week for RW – I had a great experience because the food was delicious and not overly fancy (we looked at Burlap’s menu and couldn’t even decipher what the main entrees were), and the staff were so nice. I never understood why they were so expensive, but after trying out the steak I can understand why (though it’s still pricey). To avoid crowds it helps to go during the week and early – we made reservations around 6 on Wednesday and the main crowd didn’t come in until 8ish. Happy Belated Birthday!

    • says

      Thanks for the b-day wishes! I went to Donovan a few years back so my memory is a little hazy but I do remember they had good food and excellent service. Really good warm bread too haha, oh the little things. But I think we haven’t gone back since it is more expensive than other steak houses.

      Nowadays, we usually go to Ruth Chris if we want a really good steak and they usually have some type of 3 course meal for around $45 each, I get the ribeye. Yum ok I’m hungry now, time to get some lunch.

  8. Kelly says

    I live in the Raleigh/Durham area of NC, and I use RW as an opportunity to treat myself to restaurants I can’t usually afford. We have TONS of local and independent places that are normally out of price range!

    Ruth’s Chris is always a good deal here – the petite filet by itself is more than $30 on their regular menu. Other options around this are include several great seafood restaurants and a Brazilian steakhouse. You have to carefully select the restaurants or it isn’t a good deal, but overall, I’ve been pretty happy with RW.

    • says

      Nice that’s a good use of RW, although Ruth Chris isn’t local and independent ;) But it is damn good! Sounds like you’ve done your HW and had good experiences. I think that was my problem the first couple times around. The last place I went to I researched carefully and the food was awesome and it was also a great deal.

      • Kelly says

        Yes, I felt bad going to Ruth’s Chris since we have good local places. But only until they brought out the steak and I bit into it ;-)

  9. Emily says

    Restaurant week is a pretty good deal where I live, probably because it’s a small city with culinary schools, so the restaurant scene is fairly competitive. I use it to try out highly recommended places I normally can’t afford; it tends to be halfway between what I would usually choose to spend on dinner out and what those places actually cost, so I would NEVER go to one of those places full price! (A couple places also tend to offer the same restaurant week menu 2 for $30 for lunch, so that’s actually quite a good deal, and a couple have year-round fix price menus, which is a nice option.) I always research the limited menus of the places I’m thinking of going and don’t go if it looks boring or like they’re trying hard to same money.

    I guess it’s the usual – comparison shop, don’t buy what you don’t want, and it works out.

    • says

      That’s a very good point. Since most of these nice places you really only go to once a year you might as well do it during RW and save yourself some coin.

      No matter how much money I have though, I don’t know how often I’d be able to go out to a fancy dinner and pay $150 when I could cook a great dinner myself for two people for $20.

  10. says

    It’s interesting you bring this up because the one thing I really splurge on. I love eating out, it’s always a great time with my fiance and I feel like it’s a good reward for all the hard work I put in to work and side projects.

    In terms of restaurant week, it really depends on the place. Sure they kinda rope you into getting a multi-course meal that you wouldn’t normally get but overall the food is much cheaper and if you pick a particularly expensive place to go to you can get a great deal.

    • says

      Oh I love food, don’t get me wrong! I love to cook, I love to eat out, and I love going to nice dinners. But I generally only go to the really nice/expensive places for special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries. I actually just went out to a nice place with my fiance(congrats btw brotha! haha) and we got an appetizer, two main dishes and dessert for $55. I was stuffed and we had leftovers. We were also able to choose from the whole menu and weren’t limited to certain dishes. I think RW may be a better deal though at the really top end restaurants but for the others, not so much.

  11. Darlene says

    I was wondering if RW a good deal. But the price at Blue Marlin in Columbia SC seems high. Their regular menu deal on normal day seem cheaper same thing RW 30.00 a person.

    • says

      Yea I think when RW first came out a few years ago, it was actually a good deal at most restaurants. But now most restaurants just use it as a way to take advantage of consumers. Check out chowhound forum and see if there’s a thread on RW in your area – I was able to find a good RW deal that way last year :)


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