The 2013 Chicago Restaurant Week "deals" are out:
I am not sure I quite understand the point of this. It seems like looking at the menus at some of the places I am interested in when you add up the cost of the same food (if you ordered a la carte) you are actually being charged a couple dollars more during restaurant week! Most of the other venues I checked out at most offered a savings of a couple of dollars and for that you were greatly restricted on what you could order (i.e. one to three options per course). There are some exceptions, but it seems like a significant majority of the "deals" are not really deals at all.
Am I missing something, or is restaurant week more of a marketing gimmick where for the most part one would be better off just ordering off the regular a la carte menu?
I haven't looked at this year's deals yet. But in previous years, the deals were indeed a mixed bag - some that were a screaming bargain, many that represented some small savings over ordering from the regular menu, and yes, a few (only a few though) where the RW menu was a worse deal than the regular menu. As a general rule, the best deals were often at restaurants that are usually very expensive, and the worst deals at relatively inexpensive restaurants.
At most restaurants participating in RW, you are presented with the special RW menu as well as their regular menu, so you are free to order from either one.
So yes, if your goal for dining during Restaurant Week is to achieve the maximum savings possible, you need to do your homework. OTOH if you've been meaning to try some of the participating restaurants (or maybe you'd like to make a return visit), maybe you'll find that you like the dishes they're offering on the RW menu so that even a few dollars savings make it a worthwhile time to go.
My general attitude is that it is not merely a marketing "gimmick"; there are savings to be had at most of the participating restaurants, compared with their regular menus. But to maximize your satisfaction, you need to stick to places you want to go anyway, where items on the limited RW menu sounds good to you.
Incidentally, I am looking at the RW menu for one specific restaurant that I've been wanting to try. (The name doesn't matter, I'm just using it as an example.) Their RW menu has a choice of three appetizers which normally cost $13/$16/$10; three entrees which normally cost $18/$26/$25/$22; and three desserts which normally cost $10/$9/$9. So the normal cost of that menu could be anywhere from $37 to $52. All RW dinner menus are priced at either $33 or $44; this one doesn't say which. If it's $33, it will save you $4 to $19, depending on what you order. If it's $44, it may save you up to $7 or you may be better off ordering a la carte. Which supports my statement above, that you need to do your homework to determine whether RW will give you savings at any particular place, or if you'd be better off going there another time, and going elsewhere during the RW promotion.
As for my experiences, I've had more positive experiences than negative ones. I have had some fantastic meals, many of which were amazing bargains; these included Carlos, Oceanique, Quince, Cafe des Architectes, and the Florentine. I have also had some meals that were not all that great, but primarily because the food was not that impressive, not because the RW menu represented a bad deal. Those have included one sixtyblue (under McDonald), Leopold, and Catch 35. So five out of eight RW meals were terrific, which I consider a darn good average!
Gonzo, as usual you are not missing anything. We have had a mixed bag of experiences, but most of them probably not worth the effort, time or money.
Some restaurants really seem to go all out to make the offering special and quite a good deal - we've had great RW experiences at Naha and Mercat for example. In my experience, it really is the less expensive, rather mundane spots that seem to miss the point of wanting to make us want to come back.
Restaurant Week began in New York City in 1992 as a four-day promotion where diners could enjoy a prix fixe lunch for $19.92 at participating restaurants.
The original four-day event was targeted to the reporters attending that year’s Democratic National Convention. Founders expected it to be a short-term money-loser but hoped that it would have long-term PR benefit for New York and the restaurant industry.
It was successful beyond their wildest dreams and since then, Restaurant Week promotions have spread to Washington, DC; Boston; Chicago; Denver; Baltimore; Los Angeles; Philadelphia; Salem, Mass.; Honolulu, Saratoga; Raleigh; San Francisco; Tucson; Phoenix; Kansas City; Las Vegas; Virginia Beach; Toronto; Madrid; London; Rome; Singapore – I could literally go on and on and on.
Clearly Restaurant Week seems to be good for restaurants, especially in filling the post-Holiday/pre-spring restaurant doldrums. The question, then, is what is it that Restaurant Week is out to accomplish?
Do they want to just fill tables during a traditionally quiet time? Good for participating restaurants – for the short run.
Or do they want to cultivate new returning customers? Good for participating restaurants and for diners like us – for the long run.
Unfortunately it is impossible for a diner to know in advance how a particular restaurant is participating in Restaurant Week. We have had very pleasant RW dinners (Perennial Virant), really bad ones (Piccolo Sogno) and RW dinners where we were disappointed with what was offered for the special menu (Naha) and tried out a new restaurant (Mercadita).
We each have to decide for ourselves, but our experiences make it unlikely that we will go again this year. Good luck to you and, if you participate, let us know how it goes.
What I meant, nsxtasy, is that a diner has no way of knowing what the restaurant's intention is - what they want to get out of Restaurant Week. Do they want to fill the restaurant with bodies during a slow time or do they want to cultivate new returning customers? Their intention is going to determine a lot about how the experience will be.