Against Restaurant Week


By Ezra Klein

We’re coming up on Restaurant Week here in Washington, D.C. From Aug. 24 to 30, an array of schmancy restaurants will serve up a three-course meal from a limited menu for a mere $34.09. It is, in theory at least, a way to try restaurants you’d otherwise be priced out of. The promotion is pretty common: Dozens of metropolitan areas have it, or some variant of it.

My advice is simple: Don’t go. With few exceptions, it’s not as good a deal as it sounds and the food isn’t as good as you’d expect.

Take, for example, PS7s. Excellent restaurant, if a bit pricey. Exactly the sort of place you might try during Restaurant Week. But how pricey? Depends what you order, of course. Say you start with Sarah’s Salad. “Mixed field greens with fresh strawberries, toasted sunflower seeds, rosemary-black pepper crouton and mascarpone and lemon dressing.” Sounds good, right? At 10 dollars, it’s one of the more expensive salads. And maybe, as your main course, you order the cornmeal-fried trout. That’s got “lemon-butter sauce, French beans and a ginger-tomato confiture.” Delicious! $22.

You’re still only at $32. Now, Restaurant Week includes a dessert, and dessert costs more than $2.09. But it’s also the least interesting part of the meal. And you’d probably split a dessert among two people anyway. More to the point, there are certain costs to participating in Restaurant Week. For one, the menu is limited. And the few selections on the limited menu are made in great quantity, so they’re often worse than they’d be on a normal night (sort of how the food at a large event catered by a restaurant is worse than the food you get if you went to the restaurant for dinner). The place will also be more crowded, the servers will be more harried, and there’ll be more of an effort to rush you through your meal.

So you’re spending almost as much as you would otherwise, but getting worse food, fewer options, and a crummier experience. That, at least, has been my general experience. That’s not to say you can’t have a nice dinner during Restaurant Week, or that there’s no restaurant out there offering a real value. But in general, this isn’t near the deal it’s touted to be, and most people are better off spending $10 more and having the meal they want, the way they want it.


13 responses to “Against Restaurant Week

  1. I think this is generally right, but I’ve had some good RW experiences. The secret seems to be research (ideally research conducted by a thorough and conscientious girlfriend). The folks on chowhound and donrockwell can usually help you figure out where to go.

  2. I’ve had good experiences as well, but probably wouldn’t go to a $20 main course/$10 app place during restaurant week unless they were doing something really special. Last time I picked one restaurant I had been to and really liked, and one I was looking for an excuse to try. Both were ones I can only really afford on special occasions…. so while it still ended up being a pricey night out when you factor in drinks and whatnot, it felt like a reasonable deal.

  3. The best RW deal isn’t during RW. It’s the “RW all year” deal at Dino.

  4. Agree with you Ezra, and also with Becks above. Best “RW” deal is the year round at Dino. I’m going RW-free this year on the assumption that instead of spending 70+tax/tip on two RW meals, I can spend 50+tax/tip on one non-RW meal that’ll be lower key and generally more enjoyable.

  5. This seems characteristic of similar restaurant promotions. Toronto has “Summerlicious” and “Winterlicious” and I’ve heard the same things as what you’ve said about Washington’s Restaurant Week.

    I’ve also heard complaints of smaller portions and wait staff with attitudes. My experience has been varied. I went for two lunches earlier this month because it cost less than dinner and it was easier to get a table. The first experience was a disappointment.

    It seems that outside of these events many restaurants are offering price fix menus to draw people in during the recession.

  6. Dessert is the “least interesting part of the meal”???? I’ll never read anything by you again.

  7. Agree that research is the key. Are they offering their entire menu with the only caveat being that some entrees may be a few additional bucks? Are there deals on wine? Is the menu online and are there things from every course that look enticing? Good signs. Are there only three appetizer options and one of them is a Caesar salad? Baaaad sign. I will say that PS7 actually is one of the few places where I think doing RW is worth it. Grapeseed in Bethesda is kind of perfect, in that lets you pick your 3 courses in any way you want, so if you do think that dessert is the least interesting part of the meal (which I do too), you can get whatever combination of starters and entrees you do think is interesting.

  8. Pingback: Food For Thought – Monday, August 3rd « Save Your Fork… There’s Pie

  9. While I agree that you aren’t really getting a deal per se, aren’t most of these Restaurant Weeks done so that a portion of the proceeds goes to charity. I’m fairly sure that the one in Dallas sponsors the North Texas Food Bank. I also totally disagree about the dessert part; I bake a lot, and dessert can be just as complex as the main course. And of course the fixed price menu doesn’t include drinks.

  10. Dessert partisans: normally, I am with you. But Ezra is right. At most restaurants, even nice ones, dessert is dull and uninventive. It’s probably been outsourced to a vendor that serves every other restaurant in town.

    Think about it: why else would every dessert menu have the same old lame molten chocolate cake/berry crumble/trio of sorbets lineup?

    Of course there are exceptions. But they are few and far between, and you typically pay $$$ for them.

  11. Sure, if you go to a place with apps in the $8-$10 range and entrees in the $20-$30 range, you aren’t getting a good deal. But during Restaurant Week in Boston I went to a great high-end Italian place where apps are normally $10-$15 and entrees $30-$45. At a place like that, it works out to getting a free appetizer and a free dessert, in exchange for a limited menu selection and the chance of bad or rushed service. I just think a lot of people have the wrong approach to RW — if a restaurant isn’t $$$$ on OpenTable, there is probably no point in going to get a deal.

  12. “Dessert is the “least interesting part of the meal”???? I’ll never read anything by you again.”
    Yeah I got stuck on that too.

    A good dessert is often the best bit. Though they can be the most easily disappointing bit too.


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