After the last experience we had at The Modern, I won't be doing this hot little "deal" anymore. I might be back to the restaurant but not for Restaurant Week.
Why I Hate Restaurant Week
Restaurant Week is coming up in New York starting January 21, and already the internets are abuzz with guides of where to go, press releases with special menus fill my inbox, and friends are asking where to make reservations. However, after being excited and then inevitably disappointed year after year, I've learned my lesson about this clusterfuck. The premise of the whole thing, for those of you who haven't been paying attention these last 16 years, is that during the week normally expensive restaurants in the city serve a set menu for $24.07 for lunch and $35 for dinner, giving regular diners the chance to try out all the places they normally can't afford. The success of the New York scheme/promotion/culinary shitshow (originally only held during the summer, a sluggish time for a restaurant) inspired similar events in Brooklyn, DC, Boston, Denver, Montreal, and San Francisco. It generates a pile of cash for the over 200 participating restaurants, gives the industry something to crow about, and gooses the local and the economy. And in theory, it brings in diners who will return again to pay full price. For the most part though, it's the customers who get screwed by Restaurant Week(s), and here's why.
1. No big ticket items. Most chefs will not include their expensive, signature items on the Restaurant Week menus. They create special menus for the discount diner, figuring hey -- it's amateur hour, no one will know the difference. Exorbitantly expensive places like Le Bernadin and Per Se won't do Restaurant Week because it would be a joke to pretend they were serving the same caliber food. This piece from a couple years ago in the New York Times notes how some chefs lose money and serve their famous items while others opt to serve more economical chicken and salmon.
2. Little choice. So you won't get to sample a restaurant's most popular dish, but you also won't get the option of trying much else on the menu. Most of the restaurants let diners choose between two options for each of the three courses, the third of which is often a throwaway dessert, or in some very high end places, nonexistent. This doesn't let participants fully or even partially enjoy what the restaurant typically has to offer.
3. It's never just $35. Since wine, tax, and tip are not included, that tacks on another $50 at least. And since the prix fixe choices are so limited, you'll end up ordering supplements off the real menu and eating ramen or ketchup sandwiches for the rest of the week to make up for your "discount" meal.
4. Waiter hostility. Restaurants serve their regular menus along with the prix fixe and obviously favor patrons who will shell out for the real deal. I'm not just projecting here. The waiters want the bigger tips from the higher-ticket items, and unless the place is usually empty, they resent your cheap-ass presence.
That said, some places do a good job, and I have plenty of friends who rave about their Restaurant Week experiences. Just ask around first. To help, we're compiling realistic Restaurant Week recommendations from some of New York's top food authorities for next week. And check out last year's guide: Don't Get Shafted New York Restaurant Week Tips.