Friday, March 22, 2013

Restaurant week schmestaurant week

Restaurant Week (RW): Restaurants around the city offer prix fixe menus for a figure that typically adds up to a smaller cheque than if you were to visit during the other 51 weeks of the year.

A great idea? One would think so. Excellent food in smaller portions is one of the most appealing things about nice restaurants, so a week that allows for a more casual sampling of menus around town is an ideal way to find a new favorite place, or to reaffirm an old one.

However - my Twin Cities restaurant week ventures have led me to believe many venues do not sign on for restaurant week wholeheartedly and are less than enthusiastic about all the diners coming in for a smaller check producing dinner than usual.

Here is the scenario I envision:

Restaurant manager: Restaurant week! What a great time to pack people in. New people will come and try our food and love us and tell all their friends.

Chef: What is this?  I have to create a full prix fixe menu for $30?! I cannot work this way! Where am I supposed to find materials at this price? Heating up Lean Cuisines?!

Diners: Well, that was ok...

I'm not a 'foodie' but I know when something is really good, because when something is really good I say, 'Oh wow. This is really good.'

Restaurant week experiences have yet to make me say, 'Oh wow. That was really good'.

One was at Capitol Grille. I had never been there before, and I'm sure the regular menu is great but I may never find out. I had a steak that was ok. Sides were nicely seasoned green beans and mashed potatoes. If someone else picked the Grille as a destination, I wouldn't say no, but I will probably never make an effort to go back.

This year I went to Vincent, a Restaurant. I had been here before and will go back because their regular menu, and bar food, is so delicious, but their restaurant week menu was lame. Mushy fish, not much flavor in anything. Come on, Vincent, the work is practically done for you. You're right next to Orchestra Hall, your space is beautiful, people want to love you!

The above are an issue because these days people know their food. If the food truck trend has taught us anything it's that fantastic food can be had anytime, anywhere by anyone. There isn't margin for a slack menu to go unrecognized by inexperienced diners awed by the formal atmosphere.

I'm sure being a part of Restaurant Week comes with some stipulations (must offer 3 courses, x number of options, etc), but restaurants shouldn't sign on unless they are going to offer things they would be willing to put on their normal menu. And they shouldn't appear to be catering to the novice diner who only cautiously ventures into a new place during RW. Restaurants must always be bold! daring! and assume everyone is a budding foodie.