Have 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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