My thoughts on Summerlicious
- Frederic Tutundjian Jul 8, 2004 10:01 PM
As I see all the Summerlicious messages on the board, I'd thought Id throw in my 2 cents about the subject. With the recent blows that our tourism and hospitality industry took, I think it's not a bad initiative to have come up with Summerlicious and Winterlicious. However and I do mean however, this is aimed at the tourist crowd, even if a lot of locals will flock to it (not me!). You see, if to pay less to go to a restaurant, I have to go through smaller portions, sour service and in some cases, as some of our reviewers have attested, fruit flies, I'd rather abstain. Yes, I'd prefer to wait a bit, save my money and spend more on a memorable meal.
One(and especially a Chowhound) has to ask him or herself the following question: What makes the restaurant going experience worth our while? It's not a bargain, it's not to have a discount at a certain period of the day, week or year. No, it is to have an exceptional experience, in terms of sights, sounds, surroundings, company, and of course exquisite taste, outstanding freshness of ingredients and amazing service. And this, ladies and gentlemen, should not have limits in choice, price, or time.
If I'm on a budget while I'm travelling, of course, I will want to maximize my expense and sometimes go for a bargain (though I've been known to spend a lot for food while in Europe or elsewhere). That is legitimate and thus, I see the point in Summerlicious or Winterlicious as far as the tourism industry is concerned.
However, If I go to a restaurant when in my hometown, since I can cook at home (and so can most of my friends), I do not want to be limited in my choices. I want a great service, I want something that is out of the ordinary and that will make me long for more.
When I go to an establishment, it is with the knowledge that whatever average price they charge, I am willing to pay. If I do want to spend less, I might make different choices than if I have more funds available. The constant is that I can always expect the best that I can get.
I don't blame my fellow Chowhounds for going and trying out these promotions. It is good that some of us go and inform our community of what it is about and of it limitations.
However,and I am sure a lot of people will think the same, being a Chowhound is being free of boundaries and standards, and trying whatever we want, whenever we want, no matter what the trend or promotion of the moment is. And that is why I did not read or see Harry Potter but that is another story and I do not want to digress! LOL.
Thanks for reading,
While I agree with many of the points made by Frederic, I'd like to make a couple of points. As some of you know, I used to live in NYC where there are similar promotionals. As is the case with Summerlicious/Winterlicious, some restaurants do a nice job and some do not. Danny Meyer, a very successful restauranteur in NYC, I think sums up the correct approach to these events the best. He says it is impossible to even break even at the prices charged. That isn't the point from his perspective. It is to give people an idea of what the restaurant is like so they might want to come and pay full freight. In other words, it is simply a loss leader. Interestingly, many of his restaurants have a similar promotion throughout the year. For example, you can have lunch at 11 Madison Park throughout the year for $25. Combine it with the absolute best service you will ever experience and is it any wonder that his restaurants are perenial favorites of New Yorkers? I've probably taken advantage of that $25 lunch at least ten times. Each time I am amazed at how good the food is and how generous the portions are (it's always a full meal of appetizer, entree and dessert). I've also eaten there a number of times for dinner and paid full price. Definitely more expensive ingredients were used but they didn't treat me any better or prepare the food with more skill and care. All I am saying is that the places that serve you bad food and provide bad service are doing themselves a disservice. I can understand more modest ingredients and perhaps less attentive serevice because the restaurant may be busier than ususal. But rancid food and surly service... no way! They are showing their true stipes. Don't patronize those places. Whatever price you pay is too expensive for what you get.
re: Jonathan C.
I agree on all points, Jonathan.
My recent Summerlicious meal at Square was quite good, and because of that, I plan to go back very soon for an exponentially more expensive meal. Not to mention the fact that I am highly recommending the restaurant to a myriad of local foodies.
I do think, though, that a very positive Summerlicious experience is relatively rare. For the most part, in my experience, restaurants do not put forth the effort to make it worthwhile for the dinner, and for the house. I've eaten probably 30 Summerlicious/Winterlicious meals over the years, and could only recommend MAYBE 10 of the restaurants to other diners based on my experience.
To expect a mind blowing meal for $30.00 at places like Bymark ect. is crazy. The cost of the Frette linen alone is not covered, let alone labour, rent,and insurance. The fact that there are so many negative reviews of the food at these places is sad. I think the people behind Square are going the extra mile to promote their new investmemt and chef, but probably arn't making a good profit. But that's what the other 7 restaurants are good for. In a business where profit margins run less than 7% summerlicious can hurt a place, especially when people complain on a forum like this that the food wasn't up to their expectations. Enjoy your $30.00 meal and put it into perspective.
I fully understand that there is no way restaurants can make money at the Summerlicious prices. I also understand that you will not likely see any foie gras, caviar or truffles on any Summerlicious menus. However, it doesn't cost any extra to prepare more modest ingredients well or to provide pleasant service. For example, my wife and I were at Five Doors North on Friday night. I had completely forgotten about Summerlicous and when we got to the restaurant, it was VERY busy. We didn't have the Summerlicous menu, but because the restaurant was so busy, there must have been some confusion in the kitchen with the result that we waited quite a long time for one of our courses. The waiter was very apolgetic for the delay and offered to comp us on a drink or dessert. We didn't take him up on it because we didn't feel like drinking and we were planning to have dessert elsewhere. However, I really liked the fact that even given the mob of diners, he didn't let the situation get to him.
Personally, I avoid all the Summerlicious events because they are so fraught with the danger of having an unpleasant experience. I go out to dinner to have a nice time. Personally, I don't have so much free time that I am willing to risk a 50% or greater chance of having a bad experience. In addition, at least with respect to the higher end restaurants which are the ones I am most curious to try, I'm not sure how representative the Summerlicous menu is of their regular menu. It seems everyone is serving either chicken breast or salmon in a not very interesting preparation. Personally, it is unlikely I would ever order chicken or salmon at one of these restaurants. I certainly understand the use of less expensive ingrediants to the costs of the promotion down. I guess I would prefer more unusual inexpensive ingrediants (I once had an abolutely delicious dish of lamb's tongue at 11 Madison Park during one of their promotional lunches). Perhaps I am just too jaded... Just my two cents.
I have to agree with many points being made about the Summerlicious promotion, especially on the $ side of things. I for one will definitely be going back to many of the restaurants to sample their regular menus because I was impressed by how they handled the mass production and mass event of Summerlicious.
I've read many comments via other topics which say that Summerlicious menus cannot compare to what is provided regularly (ie. Canoe, Bymark, etc.). However, I was impressed enough as a first time goer to these restaurants that I am willing to pay full price to sample their regular menus.
I like to think of Summerlicious as a way to get a taste of what is to come, and to pick and choose for later dining experiences which restaurants seem to be well worth paying the full price, and which will probably be a disappointment. Just my two cents, Thanks!
For me, price matters.
At a meal price for 100 dollars a head (with no wine, just salad, main, dessert and tea), I expect the absolutely best out of the atmosphere, the service and the food quality (aka experience at North 44). If I had to pay that amount for mediocracy, I'd be extremely disappointed (aka experience at Centro). Lower the price to $30, and I won't complain as much.
Some restaurants are way too overpriced. If they can't cook a decent meal given simpler (aka cheaper) ingredients in a hectic environment (quite honestly, even I could make a 5-star meal out of freshly flown in lobster, organic butter and lemon!), then I wouldn't want to spend more money for higher-end meals at that place. A good restaurant should offer tasty choices at various price ranges.
I don't have the money to have more than 1 or 2 extraordinary meals per year at one of the high-end restaurants. Yet I would still like to try some of the restaurants that claim innovativeness in their kitchens.
I like having the choice to sample the places people talk about... without spending hundreds of dollars every time. So this event is an additional food blessing to me ...on top of good cheap food finds, my own cooking, and the annual exquisit-restaurant-of-choice.
While I understand what Frederic is saying, I'd tend to agree with garp on this; unfortunately there are many of us without the means (yet) to go out and enjoy the cities best (and most expensive) restaurants on a regular basis. Promotions like Summerlicious give us a chance to get out and experience many places in a short period, and thus give us a solid foundation for selecting a special restaurant in the future.
I'd agree that I don't think the meals at Summerlicious will always be indicative of the normal quality of food/service at these restaurants, but as Jonathan mentioned if these places choose to take part in the promotion and yet serve bad food with poor service, they are certainly doing themselves a disservice. This bad experience will certainly be passed on by the diners, and thus will have a negative impact on any attempt by the restaurant to broaden their customer base. I would tend to think (or at least hope) that most restaurants involved tend to view Summerlicious as a huge opportunity and not a hassle.
As an aside; I'm new to the board and a novice foodie myself, so hope you don't mind me sticking my 2 cents in here and there. :-)
For me, price does matter. I don't really consider myself a 'chowhound' - I'm not even sure what that means. I do know that I've got other priorities in my life, which unfortunately involve $, so I don't have an unlimited budget for dining out. So it's fun to try some of those restaurants that are participating in Summerlicious.
I like the smaller portions. While I am able to eat an appetizer, main and quite often dessert, I don't feel great afterwards and enjoyment is lessened. As in the first bite of dessert tastes great, but I really don't enjoy it to the last bite. Whereas I do with Summerlicious portions.
So, if you can't afford a $200 meal, you trade down and buy a $30 meal at a lesser restaurant. If I can't afford a $200 meal, I trade down and buy a $30 meal at the same restaurant at a lesser time. What's the difference? Sure, I'm not getting the full Auberge / Canoe / Bymark experience, but it's more of an experience than I can get at a restaurant that normally charges $30. If you'd rather experience these restaurants only in their glory, that's great, but I'm never going to be able to afford some of them in their glory, and am willing to trade down instead of forgoing them altogether.