[moved from Boston]
This topic is about to get moved to another board, but it's an interesting question, Patricia: "If RW is such a bad idea, why do restaurants keep participating every year, and why did they extend it to two weeks this year?" My best theory is that it's like the airlines' frequent flier programs: there's no differentiation in them anymore, most consider them a huge albatross, but rather than being the first to admit that they're effectively useless, many simply do everything they can to reduce their costs. Have you tried to use miles for a flight to Western Europe lately?
But I think that regardless of what the answer is, it's a mistake to judge a place based on its RW offering. Some fine places do a lousy job during RW, and I suspect it's because they've concluded that the vast majority of RW diners are just there for a cheap meal and will never come back to pay full prices. Their rationale, I suspect, is: "The diners are defeating the purpose of RW, so why should I lose money?" And they put on a cheap meal that they can profit on, even at $30, something that is way below their usual standard.
If it were a perfect world, neither diners nor restaurateurs would flout the ostentible purpose of RW, but it isn't, and they do. Both sides are to blame for why RW is largely broken. Judging a restaurant on its RW performance is like expecting that all the diners that take advantage of RW will live up to their end of the bargain and return later to pay full prices at the places they like. That just strikes me as naive.
I don't really buy into the "don't expect much" attitude of RW either. Unfortunately, there are many restaurants that use RW solely to fill tables and make a few bucks during a slow time. I use Chowhound to weed some of those out. It's true that a lot of the diners at these places will not return or become regulars even if the meal is excellent, but the restaurant should not decide that this is the norm and put out mediocre food with crappy service.
I don't eat out nearly as much as some of the people I enjoy reading on this site, so I may not become a regular either. However, in cases that I was served an excellent meal and had stellar service, the event stuck in my mind. So when I have friends come in from out of town and ask for a good recommendation or if I'm sitting around thinking of something new..those experiences pop in my mind..."hey remember those great mussels at Taranta..lets go there".
I'm sorry, but if a restaurant that can come through with excellent food and incredible service when I'm paying top dollar can completely slack on those same things when I'm there on a promotional week will never ever get my business again.
Restaurant Week is a marketing tool and that's how participating restaurants should approach it. If a restaurant can't be bothered to try its best during this time, then I'm sorry, I can't be bothered to come back. Here in NY, I recall that it was great for the first two years or so, with the quality dwindling ever since (there are a few exceptions). The "don't expect the best but expect the worst during RW" attitude is absurd. How about giving it your all, 24/7, 365 days a year? As someone who has her own business, I would lose clients pretty rapidly if I decide to do subpar work one or two months a year. So, quite to the contrary of what's been said here, I think RW is one of the best times to gauge a restaurant. If a restaurant sees this as an opportunity to get lazy, careless, or to dredge out their B-list items, then it says alot about that restaurant and how it values--or doesn't--its customers.
I can't disagree with any of the above comments, but I would think that restaurants would want to really put their best foot forward to gain new, loyal customers (apparently a naive concept ;)), but my experience has been pretty much the opposite, with some exceptions of course.
Last year we went to Mama Maria, one of the supposed "crown jewels" of the North End. It was without question the worst meal I've ever had in the North End. I had a fairly dismal experience earlier this week at Azure (no clue why I chose to go there) Our waiter could not be less interested in making our visit a pleasant experience,( After all he's only going to make a little over $12.00 per couple) he would swing by to ask how things were and not even wait for a reply before he was off.
Many times it has been commented that RW is no the way to judge a restaurant. Well too bad. If you choose to participate and invite me in for an example of what you have to offer and you don't deliver on food, service or both, I'm not coming back. Like most on this board, I'm pretty passionate about food, so to me that is unacceptable. Treat me right, show me a taste of what you are capable of and if I like it, you bet I'll be back and next time I'll bring my friends.
I agree with your comments. If an establishment participates, it's up to them how they take on the challenge. If they're not interested, they've gained nothing. But it can be a great way to bring in new customers. We've tried some places in the Boston area during RWs and in some cases have liked them enough to go back regularly and recommend them to others. Others were write-offs.
In San Francisco, it's called Dine About Town (DAT for short), and it's the whole month of January, which is a very slow month for restaurants. Prix fixe, may or may not have choices, $32 for dinner.
There are a few bargains, but at most of the participating restaurants you could eat a la carte for the about the same, sometimes less.
My post probably belongs on the feedback board, but this topic seems to be a perfect example of one that began on a board where people actually knew what it was about, then got moved to a generic board....... where most of us may have no earthly idea of what "Restaurant Week" is at all. I gather there are cities where restaurants particpate in some kind of 'open house' program to let people get acquainted with them? Here in "the OC" we have food events from time to time, where restaurants bring examples of their food, but I don't think I've ever heard of a walk-in 'try-us-out' event around here.
There was a discussion on one of the New York boards about this recently.
I'm with you. RW performance is not a good way to judge restaurants. Of course there *are* some places that do a good job and using the boards to suss them out is the way to go.
I view RW in the same class as the free food samples many stores put out. Most people just grab a bite because it's free, but some will like the sample enough to buy the product. So RW is like a low-cost intro to what the restaurant can offer, what potential it has. If the establishment sees it as a challenge to bring in new customers but stay in a limited budget, it could be a big hit all round.
On NPR this morning I heard that restaurant business in the greater Boston area is down to dismal levels. Reasons: higher costs of transport, bad weather this summer. I've seen plenty of empty tables before RW began. They need all the help they can get.
Agree with MC Slim - and
If the purpose of RW is to draw in new customers, then it is obsolete avenue to learn about restaurants. Most places have a website now and places like Chowhound really make enjoying a sample menu pointless.
For example, I "feel" like I've been to No. 9 Park numerous times, based on everyone's comments. I would order a Palmyra and be disappointed at the portion size of the entrees. So there's really no need for me to go now. ;)
If the purpose of RW is to provide for the lulls in the slow months, then the joke's on us.
I'd rather eat Ramen at home for six days and splurge on the cadillac service at a good restaurant than scrounge for their table scraps during RW.
you hit the nail on the head. Most dinners these days come out "only" for restaurant week and the restaurants get upset by it, it defeats the purpose of doing it. As for RW being two weeks this year, that was a desicion by American Express I beleive, it was not made by the restaurants.