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Summerlicious: To avoid or not to avoid

Hey there foodies,

With your help, I would like to demystify a few claims I've heard about this two week long event: one is that Summerlicious food is just about mass production and should be avoided at all costs. Is this true?
The other is that you should NOT attend restaurants that participate in Summerlicious; even if you don't order off the S.licious menu because the quality of their a la carte menu would be diminished (implying that staff focus/efforts would be on the event) . Is this true as well?

I would appreciate hearing about your thoughts and dining experiences on this.

Thank you in advance :)

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  1. Ive worked at a couple of well known restaurants in downtown during Summer/Winterlicious and from my experience I would have to say that it is about mass production,getting the most money out of the least cost,usually dishes would involve the cheapest ingredients possible(I'm not saying bad quality ingredients just cheap, think rice/pasta)and making something fairly descent and edible out of it.

    One problem that Summerlicious cause in restaurants is that it becomes really busy at peak hours therefore service and sometimes quality goes down the drain,the smaller the restaurant the smaller the kitchen ,small kitchens are the worst to work in when your getting tons of orders in at one time.

    Now I'm not saying you should not go to Summerlicious, I find its a good way for me to go to a restaurant I usually would never go due to the price,and get to experience the ambiance and the feel of the restaurant.Most food ive had has been decent to mediocre, so choose your resto wisely.

    In the restaurant biz we call this event hobolicious,or wellfarelicious

    1. If you plan on ordering a la carte you might as well go before or wait until after Summerlicious. That way you can avoid the hobos.

      1. I totally agree with both sentiments. Summerlicious is cheap but inferior. It may be a good opertunity for the masses, but most Foodies would rather pay the full price and get the best meal they can. For a Chowhound Summerlicious makes a good time to stay home and learn some new recipes.

        1 Reply
        1. re: graydyn

          I agree that by-and-large it can be an inferior experience, but there are usually diamonds in the rough. Several people praised Greg Couillard's menu last time around, and for many start-up restaurants, 'licious is a chance to strut their stuff and win some converts. I think that Batifole is a good example of a restaurant that built a serious client base on the strength of their $25 'licious menu and the good service people received from waiters who were obviously instructed to not look down their noses at the "hobos."

          I also don't like the assumption that people who love food want to, or can even afford to, pay full price always. For many, the Canoes and Bymarks of the world are out of reach, and these people are willing to spend the time dialing to get a resy. And so what if the sous-chef is cooking...he/she is often cooking when the restaurant is charging full price anyway.

          Finally, there are some serious lunch deals out there...I often try to get a couple of weekend lunch reservations. $15 for a three-course lunch at The Citizen? Sold. It's a nice treat, take the wife out for a meal and a movie.

          Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of lousy experiences out there waiting for Summerlicious patrons, but to me The Way of the Hound at this time of year is to sniff out the real bargains, go out for a nice lunch on Sunday just because, drink a little more wine or a more expensive bottle than you normally would, and if you have a bad meal? Hell, you're going to have another one soon enough at full price. I had a terrible meal last night, in fact. Just come here and tell us all about it.

        2. I've had both good and awful food at a variety of restaurants during Summerlicious. There's been some that seem to be consistently good (Bymark), awful in every way (Alize), decent but, say, missing sides that you assumed would probably come with your entree (Five Doors North), good food but mediocre service (Sopra Upper Lounge), portions sized down from what you'd normally get (Thuet), etc.

          In general, most of the places I've gone during the event have been decent, but not up to par with their normal standards, and generally not of exceptional quality (though some places are pretty good deals). One thing I've noticed is that most of the food is generally "mass production," as I have a nut allergy that is very rarely accomodated at 'licious, even at restaurants that would normally acquiesce my request (an example was at Sopra where a risotto topped with nuts was off-limits, as if they couldn't just not put nuts on top of mine), or that the generic "fruit plate" is the only dessert substitution, even for something that shouldn't have, or have even been near, nuts.

          I've found quite a bit of inconsistency from one year to the next (one year the Summerlicious menu was great, the next it was weak or toned-down), so what someone recommended from last year might not end up being that great this year.

          While I agree that a lot of times it's better to wait until it's over and just pay full price, this is one of the only opportunities I have to get my cheaper friends to go out to dinner at somewhere that isn't owned by Cara (and hopefully open them up to going to new places).

          1. I believe the problem here is the fact people are comparing the restaurants' Summerlicious offerings to their regular ones. There is absolutely no way you are getting the exact same level of quality and quantity for such a reduced cost (extreme in cases like Bymark and Canoe).

            The fact is that it remains very good food in many instances for the price you pay, for wherever you go, whenever you go. And you get to dine in the same pricey environment. A diminished $200 meal for $35 is still a good deal. How often do you get three courses -- of any decent quality -- for that price, in a pleasant and rarefied atmosphere?

            4 Replies
            1. re: gloriana232

              gloriana232, with some restos your comments ring true, but others are totally ripping you off. I have heard from industry friends that the food cost is only 20-25% plus you can tell the labor portion is also lower with brownies for dessert.

              That being said, I still enjoy going with my girlfriends as they are not foodies.

              1. re: FlavourPrincess

                Ok so if a three course is usually $100 and food cost is 20% that is $20 add kitchen Labour cost, waiter cost, hostess, bus boy, rent, air conditioning, insurance etc.. and the "cost" of that dinner is over $35. So there is no way that they can serve the same meals that they usually do with the same ingredients for summer licious prices for 2 weeks without losing a ton of money.

                And looking at the price of food these days and the gas to get it.. I can see the licious prices rising next year,,,

                1. re: OnDaGo

                  I think FlavourPrincess meant 20-25% from the 35$ charged for a three course meal,which seems about right.

                2. re: FlavourPrincess

                  20-30% food cost is pretty standard practice. It's a hard concept for people to understand w/o having worked in the industry. Going above 40% is a recipe for disaster, unless you're a 3 star place dealing w/ foie gras, sea urchin, caviar, etc....

                  Good example of keeping cost down is the crepes served at Batifole. They're very tasty, yet cheap and easy to produce. This is a restauranteur's dream.