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Jan 31, 2007 12:22 AM

Why Winterlicious?

Are people really surprised at their disappointments with Winterlicious? Year after year, people on this board and others talk about their experience with bad food, terrible service, rushed seating, bad location, server attitude, limited avability of expensive wine, being patronizied... etc, yet people still seem to think that they can be the exception.

I'm not saying that people can never enjoy Winterlicious. Many do. But for every good Winterlicious experience I read at least 10 bad ones, and this is over a period of at least 5 years.

Here is how I break in down: there are two categories:

1. Very expensive restaurants (Canoe, Truffles, etc)
Sure, you're getting a better deal (normally, let's say a three-course dinner will cost $70 per person before drinks and tips - $18 + $41 + $11)

But is it really worth it? First of all, with Winterlicious I was always forced to order something that I would not otherwise order, so I can't exactly say I'm saving money there. Besides, given all the potential disaster elements (and they almost certainly will happen at a restaurant like Canoe or Truffles during Winterlicious), you will almost certainly have bad experiences throughout the night.

2. Moderately expensive restaurants (others with $35 dinners)
It is true that with less expensive (and probably less popular) Winterlicious restaurants, your chance of getting a bad experience is slightly less. On the other hand, because these restaurants are less expensive, you are also not saving as much money. We're talking probably paying $35 for a meal of $50-55. Again, given that you will have to order food that you won't otherwise want to order, and the potential (albeit a little less) for disaster - trust me, there is always room for bad experiences with Winterlicious - again, is it worth it?

For me, if I have to pay $35 for 1) $70 of food that I won't otherwise choose, plus a 80% chance of having a bad experience (at the very LEAST, getting rushed through the meal), or for 2) $50 of food that I won't otherwise choose, plus a 50% chance of having a bad experience, I may as well save my money just to dine normally.

Contrary to popular belief, you are not saving that much money with Winterlicious.
Take Boba for example.
$9.5 apps + $30 main + $7 dessert, $47. You are saving $12. Would you not pay $12 to buy the broader power to choose, and the potential for better service and more time?

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  1. Yep......winterlicious' idea was to give people a chance to eat the best, in the best restaurants, at a discounted fee. Unfortunately that is not the way it turned out. It turned out to be all about making money, so why bother. Here is something that you may find interesting. There is one restaurant, Lolo, that has a prefix of 3 courses for $22.95 as a regular special on their menu and have done this since they opened, a few years ago. Now they are in winterlicious and do 3 courses for $25. Does that add up? Where is the value here! There are actually a couple of Italian restaurants part of winterlicious that sell primarily pasta and pizza. Why should they be in winterlicious? I think that the winterlicious organization should go back to the original concept, only let the best restaurants join and make them showcase their food or else they're out next time around.

    1. can we just learn to roll with the punches more?

      i'm going into perhaps my 2nd year of licious' and rather than being jaded by the whole experience i think that a veteran can learn how to make the most of it. this event is not effective for hyping up your first meal at a particular upscale restaurant and expecting to walk away with a tonne of cash in your pocket. with so many individuals trying to make a buck and save a buck, events like this are bound to crash and burn by never being what anyone expects from either end.

      how i make the most:
      - only pick restaurants you like the menu of and have a good cookery reputation, if you don't want to be forced to eat something you never wanted.. don't go!
      - get the late seating, you'll have a more relaxed time and so will your server
      - don't expect fantastic service, don't expect shite either but if you end up getting fantastic service during a 'licious... then it's definitely a place to go back to

      i now abide by these rules and after the first licious or so of learning i now have a fantastic time out and get away with some tasty meals for great prices.

      ps. and i did get to do canoe in the first year... bland food, great service, wanted to eat everyone else's meal off of the regular menu.

      4 Replies
      1. re: pinstripeprincess

        The thing is... if a restaurant can't get a simple menu right, why on earth should I come back and pay full price for something more complex? It's the triumph of mediocrity with this event and I don't think it's an excuse to say "it doesn't pay" or "it's too much work". If you can't do it right, don't do it at all... That's my theory and I'm sticking with it!

        1. re: kawarthagirl

          i don't believe i mentioned a single thing about accepting bad food.

          a menu is a menu, you either like the words or you don't and many people seem to actually ignore this part when they pick a restaurant that will be serving them a limited number of choices. the winterlicious menus are often uninspired and hardly ever have items they are likely to feature on their regular menu. if you still like what they've listed on their prix fixe with all this in mind... then go for it.

          but if the food is absolute trash then don't go back. i'm not advocate of crap food, but let's be honest about what our expectations for an event like this ought to be rather than ideally what it should be.

          1. re: pinstripeprincess

            The triumph of mediocrity extends beyond the food to the whole experience. The mark of great nation is how it treats its most impoverished and imperilled citizens. Well, to me the mark of a good restaurant is how it behaves in even the most extreme circumstances, which I think many people would believe that Winterlicious is one of... I believe in always putting one's best foot forward, regardless of the situation.

            With Winterlicious, you get the feeling that restaurants are participating because of peer pressure/duresse... Why was Winterlicious invented? To bring attention to restaurants at a slow time of year? Well, all it does is bring bad service, food and bad grace into specific relief... Pointless. Not all PR is good PR, I don't care what Samantha Jones says... :)

            1. re: kawarthagirl

              while i may not have specifically said it, i do agree that if you can't do it right then why bother?

              but as the case stands, winterlicious doesn't seem to be changing nor is the attitude of the restaurants... so make the most of it. don't like it, don't go. but there are some restaurants that do it right and you just need to know where to look for them.

      2. Sorry Princess I'm with Singar.

        Most restos tend to give you a mass produced, cheap appetizer and same with the dessert. So in fact, for $35 you are paying $5 for each sub-par app and dessert and $25 for the main. Is the main worth it? for $22 I can get the deluxe sushi platter from japango.

        Because restos aim for a 30% or lower food cost thats what you will get. no special deal. but with winterlicious there is savings due to volume. it would be good if the saving were passed on to the diner. but after dining at many i can tell you they are not!

        plus, imho, i think winterlicious is a foodie event and not for chowhounds (see alpha dogs manifesto). so stay away.

        but if you are going to go (and ignore the facts of running a successful business) follow the Princesses rules.


        2 Replies
        1. re: HarryLloyd

          "i think winterlicious is a foodie event and not for chowhounds (see alpha dogs manifesto)"

          ?? Care to elaborate? Definitions, please.

          1. re: estragon

            Back in the day when was a simple affair, the home page declared its "anti-foodie" manifesto. Foodies are presumably defined as hype-loving scenesters who jump on the latest food wagons. Now that has arrived, it has officially become a foodie board, with fewer and fewer true chowhounds sticking around and sticking up for the original philosophy. Would the real chowhounds please stand up?

        2. I tend to be a creature of habit, and over the course of last few Sundays, I wander in to my favorite restaurant by myself, read, drink and have my dinner and never leave less than content. Last Sunday, the first Winterlicious Sunday, I wander in - I did have a reservation by the way - was seated beside a table for 7 who were there before I got there and were still finishing up when I left.

          My point is that by the time everything was said and done, the three wait staff and one of the owners who served them made less money on them than they did on me. Having spoken with more than one restaurant owner, I think that they have a love/hate relationship with 'licious promotions. Love because they generate buzz and hate because they have to work three times as hard to make about the same.

          I personally will not try a new restaurant during a 'licious promo, and in case I am forced to, I'll always order off the main menu or go to a place that does not participate in the promo.


          1. every winterlicious menu is pretty much the same with a slightly different garnish.

            Apps are a variation of soup or salad. Mains are beef, chicken and salmon.

            It's a cattle call. Don't go somewhere during the various 'licious events and judge the restaurant. It's not a true representation of the restaurant.

            6 Replies
            1. re: industry worker

              Silly me, on first reading I thought you said "the vicious 'licious events"! it does have a nice ring to it though...

              I also find many 'licious menus boring and not enticing enough for me to try. Grilled chicken breast at the Canoe? No thanks. I try to look for those with a bit more variation. E.g. risotto as appetizer, salmon roulade as main... Not too many but they're there.

              1. re: Teep

                I'd love to see foie gras and truffles and other exotic ingredients on a 'licious menu! Or at least a dish that is on their "normal" menu!

                1. re: Food Tourist

                  Perhaps they should offer a higher price bracket menu for people that are willing to pay a bit more (still a little less than usual) so that they can offer finer items to those people to try.

                  1. re: pescatarian

                    I've seen those "upgrade" charges before at 'licious (and RW in NYC) events, and it's a great idea, but I somehow feel cheated. Why can't restaurants just use 'licious as a marketing tool to encourage return visits instead of trying to make a huge profit? I think I know...'licious attracts a different group than normal. But what is the point of saying, "I ate at Canoe last night!" if you can't say you ate something from their regular menu? Is it all about the hype?

                    1. re: Food Tourist

                      I am hypothesizing, but I would guess that most people that go for 'licious, do not want to eat some of the items on the main menu and if what they are offered is decent (hot, served with a smile, etc.) they will be happy and enjoy the experience and that is why the restaurants can get away with it.
                      I don't think I would feel cheated if I could order regular items for a slight discount for 'licious, but not as cheap as the $25/$35 range and by doing so be able to try the restaurants true gems.
                      I am going ot Flow on Sat night with some friends (not my choice, I was not that keen on going anywhere for 'licious, but it's Girls' Night, so why not) so I will report back on my experience.

                      1. re: pescatarian

                        Yes, a 10% or "save the taxes" discount or coupon offer (buy x, get x or y free) would be ideal instead of this special menu prix fixe nonsense.