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Restaurant Week Counterpoint: Why We'll Eat at Home

By Amy Cavanaugh in Food on Jan 20, 2012 8:00PM


Some Chicagoist food staffers aren't so fond of restaurant week. Amy Cavanaugh and John DiGilio explain why.

Amy Cavanaugh

I always cringe when I hear that Restaurant Week is coming up. I've been enough times to know that it’s often plagued with smaller portions, drastically reduced menus, and harried servers. I’ve always found the experience lacking, and across the board it seems like no one — diners, chefs, servers, anyone — really benefits from the promotion.

Restaurants can’t bring their A-game if they aren’t making enough money to pay for the food on the plates. Hence there are smaller portions and reduced menus that offer cheaper dishes. Servers get tipped on smaller checks, so they’re making less money. And diners aren’t getting to see a restaurant at its best, which makes them less likely to want to return.

If you’re bent on going, then your best bet as a diner is to find a restaurant that’s really expensive (so you save money) and offers lots of choices from the regular menu (so you can taste what the chef normally offers). I sifted through Restaurant Week menus online, only opening those from restaurants where I thought a regular meal out would be pricier than the $22 lunch specials for $33 or $44 dinners. Here are a couple examples of what I found:

Saigon Sisters’ $33 three-course dinner menu offers three appetizers, four entrees, and two desserts from its regular menu. You can choose dishes like confit octopus (regularly $14), the short rib ($20), and chocolate ganache cake ($8). Those are the most expensive dishes in each category, and you'll save $9 if you get them during Restaurant Week. Now I adore Saigon Sisters and would go eat those dishes any day of the week. But if you’re just saving $9, wouldn’t you rather pay full price and get to order exactly what you want from the full menu? Say you choose the three cheapest dishes on the Restaurant Week menu -the spring roll ($9), black pepper tofu ($13), and squash custard ($7). With those choices, you're actually paying $4 more with the Restaurant Week promotion than you normally would. Plus, it's going to be crowded, hurried and potentially unpleasant.

Blackbird is offering a three-course lunch for $22. Order the octopus confit ($11), the wood-grilled sturgeon ($15), and the espresso cake ($11), and you save $15 on lunch. But guess what? Blackbird offers a $22 three-course prix fixe lunch every day.

Of course, this is just the diners’ perspective. I’ve been around enough to know that Restaurant Week isn’t exactly the industry’s favorite time of the year. While chefs and others can’t be vocal about hating Restaurant Week, Brandon Baltzley’s recent tweet probably sums up a lot of feelings: “No, @getCRUXed will not be participating in the ‘it's a slow time of year for business so lets drop our prices and cook mediocre food’ week.”

My advice? Skip Restaurant Week and try new restaurants year round, when you’ll have a better experience, better food, and support the great chefs toiling away every week of the year. Look for deals offered by individual restaurants (not Groupon) that showcase their best offerings without hurting their bottom line.

John DiGilio

Restaurant Week? Schmesteraunt WEAK! It is tough to get excited about a week-long culinary extravaganza when you are a mere afterthought. Where are the veggie joints? Neither "vegetarian" nor "vegan" is even an option when it comes to types of cuisine on the list! Makes an herbivore want to chew his own cud.

It also makes one wonder why? Is it that the Restaurant Week folks are not ready to embrace their plant chewing colleagues? Or is that Chicago's vegetarian restaurants failed to get on board? Either way, we meatless munchers are missing out. There are some awesome restaurants on the list, some of which are bound to have something vegetarian. But I'll be darned if I can tell from the site. Looks like I will be sitting this one out. Restaurant Week at my place anyone?