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.