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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 www.chowhound.com 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 chow.com 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.

            2. I've been avoiding the "licious" events because I can't eat that much food. When my SO and I go out for dinner we usually split an appatizer, each get a main, and if we are extra hungry we'll split a dessert. I find that we can go out for dinner on a normal night, order from the whole menu, not stuff myself silly, and pay about the same (not including drinks of course).

              1. Some of the restaurant is just bad at winterlicious.
                My friends went over to Truffles (high end stuff) and they waited for 2 hours to get a table. And of course they have reservation. This is beyond any of the rule that someone suggest to follow...it just sucks ! And yeah, this is not a true representation of the restaurant, ya right.

                It is a fact that some restaurants cannot handle winterlicious, so don't overtake reservation or just don't do it. Truffle has been in 'Licious for many year. Can't they forecast the overwhelming and find a way to deal with it ? Why do they choose to promote their restaurant in such a way ?

                It is just a lose-lose situation.

                1. Here's my two cents on the subject:

                  There is a finite number of qualified restaurant staff in Toronto. For the period of time during Winterlicious a restaurant can quadruple its volume but is unlikely to increase their labour proportionately.

                  If a restaurant is lucky they hire friends and siblings of current staff for the duration of Winterlicious, but most just try and cope. The dumbed down menu which is most often served in conjunction with the regular menu adds major prep hours, increased service and support staff with little or no training.

                  Is there a solution? I don't think so.
                  And if you are a professional server or chef, do you want a job for 2 weeks of hell only to be let go because your labour cost is unwarranted February 8th.

                  1. Winterlicious and its good-weather companion, Summerlicious - an idea borrowed from New York, I believe - is simply a good idea that, like so many good ideas, has been overwhelmed by its own success. It was enjoyable the first couple of years, but nowadays during its run reception desks are mobbed, staff are harried and food somewhat industrialized (a lot of the participating joints seem to feature filet of Atlantic salmon). Some spots can rise above it all, like - in my experience - Niagara Street Cafe, Zucca and Auberge du Pommier - but most are just treading water. If you like the manic atmosphere of approaching the reception desk at 8 p.m. on a Saturday night at the hottest restaurant in town, then Winterlicious is for you. That'll leave me free to stroll in to those of my favorite spots that aren't tied to Winterlicious, where I'll enjoy a relaxed meal with a wider range of options. To me, all Winterlicious' three-course specials mean is a free dessert for the flat price - in short, I'm paying market price for an appetizer and main dish, and they throw in a dessert for free. Nice, I suppose, but it has become too much of a hassle. Mind, I'd go to Auberge du Pommier in a heartbeat during Winterlicious if I could get a reservation time other than 2 p.m. for lunch, and to Niagara Street Cafe if I could find a parking spot within five blocks of it. But it is not to be, at least for this year. I'll just wait patiently till this annual winter foodfight falls out of fashion, so that I can enjoy it once again.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: juno

                      Nothing is free! I know the thought gets us through, but let's face it, the $25 or $35 meal is worth a lot less and we get what we (don't) pay for.

                    2. I find myself consistently agreeing with most of what everyone said. But something that "Food Tourist" said stuck out: 'licious events are mainly aimed at (not only for, but aimed at) a different group.

                      HarryLloyd suggested that the 'licious events are for foodies and not Chowhounds, I think that is far too harsh on the foodies.

                      To me, at least foodies know what is good food, what is a good restaurant. I think the 'licious events are for NON-foodies (so of course, non-chowhounds), who just want to go for the crowd, the hype, the event, and the chance to say "hey, I ate at Truffles last night. Yeah, yeah, ain't all that."

                      To me, a Non-foodie is one who will eat at Truffles during 'licious
                      A foodie is one who will eat at Truffles outside of 'licious
                      And a chowhound is one who won't bother with Truffles altogether. I mean, come on now.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: Singar

                        A chowhound is one who blazes new trails but also takes good advice from reliable fellow 'hounds. Good chow might cost a little or a lot, but the real 'hound wants only the best-tasting food regardless of poor service or abysmal atmosphere. (But I'll still complain about service and dirty bathrooms on this board.)

                        I went to Truffles for 'licious last winter, decided to try the "chocolate" tasting menu instead, received noticeably better service immediately, and thoroughly enjoyed 4 out of the 5 courses. Brilliant food!

                        1. re: Singar

                          This is hilarious btw.

                          I like how people are getting all snooty about everything. At the end of the day, summer/winterlicious is just an excuse for people to gather. If it gets people to come out and enjoy conversations over a meal, then I'd say it's a job well done.

                          It's akin to going to a restaurant you're not fond of, but you end up going anyway because it's worth it to take one for the team and enjoy everybody's company. Food is nothing if not for the company you keep, people often forget about that.

                          1. re: aser

                            I do "community-building" for a living and revere the sacredness of sharing a meal. However, if I am paying for that meal, it's worth the effort to pick delicious over mediocre.

                            1. re: HarryLloyd

                              If it was just about the food, why do people talk about service, mood, ambiance and such?

                              You believe what you wish, but I value the communal experience of food. It is important to me.

                              Just because winterlicious doesn't fit into a chowhound's definition of good food, doesn't make it a total waste. It is still doing a lot of good in expanding a regular joe's culinary horizon. If it convinces one person to try something new, then I think it was well worth it.

                              I do however see a decline in the overall quality of the promotion. Quite a few cache restaurants have dropped off the list, and replaced w/ places just trying to cash in on the promotion. I agree w/ all those points, but as w/ anything, it's up to the consumer to research and determine what is the best deal. At the end of the day, you get what you pay for.

                              As mentioned before, Batifole is an excellent choice, as is Zucca. There are diamonds in the rough.

                          2. Just want to add a few fair words. It is POSSIBLE to get a nice meal during 'licious. Went to EPIC in Royal York last year for summerlicious (at 12:00 noon). This year I turned to Acqua for a Friday dinner. Both experiences were very good, with good food and attentive service as usual (I used to dine in both res regularly). Of course, the portion is smaller, but it's just perfect for a person like me who can only finish one third of the regular portion. I really look forward to another dinner in EPIC again this Friday!

                            1. "Food is nothing if not for the company you keep, people often forget about that."

                              I tend to disagree. Sure, it's nice to eat with good company. But that's besides the point.
                              Maybe good company can overcome bad experience at 'licious, but won't it be better eating at a good restaurant with good service while you're with such good company?

                              It is always better to have good food and good service, no? Just because good company can overcome some bad doesn't mean one should actively go after that bad.

                              "Summer/winterlicious is just an excuse for people to gather"

                              But that is precisely what I am trying to prevent! If people are going to get together, why pick an occasion that leads to bad food with bad value given through bad service? Why not just pick a restaurant outside of licious and get together, and enjoy better value, better food, better atmosphere, and better service? That would be a pretty good excuse to gather, no?
                              People use 'licious as an excuse to get together precisely because they have an incorrect perception of it. If they understand that they are getting better value outside of licious, they won't get together for the licious events.

                              Besides, you are just proving my point about licious events for NON-foodies. Chowhounds, or even foodies, don't need discounted food as a reason to get together. FOOD, in general, is a good enough reason to gather. I haven't heard of chowhounds or foodies waiting for the licious events so they can gather. Why not just gather and eat tonight?