Young and Hungry

It’s D.C. Restaurant Week. Do You Care?

Salmon carpaccio at Zentan

Monday marks the start of "Restaurant Week" in the District, with more than 200 area restaurants participating in the price-fixed meal promotion. This time around, lunch is set at $20.11 and dinner is $35.11. (Read the full list of participating eateries here.)

For diners, the upside is simple: the deal offers you the chance to try a restaurant you might not otherwise be able to afford, or at least think you might not otherwise be able to afford. The downside: large crowds and limited menus. Even worse: the quality of the food may suffer, as kitchens crank out bigger quantities of fewer items and with arguably less motivation to make it good. After all, what chef is going to bust his ass to impress some fly-by-night guest who likely isn't coming back until the next discount orgy in January? WaPo columnist Ezra Klein once put it this way: "you're spending almost as much as you would otherwise, but getting worse food, fewer options, and a crummier experience."

Meanwhile, more savvy diners may see it as an opportunity to patronize places that don't participate in the promotion, as reservations may be easier to obtain because the crowds are flocking elsewhere.

Young & Hungry wants to know: What do you think of Restaurant Week? Do you participate? Or, do you avoid it like E. Coli? Do you think the quality of food is better or worse during the promotion? Do you end up saving money or not? Do you believe the promotion is good for restaurants regardless of the impact on your palate or wallet? Discuss.

Photo by Chris Shott

  • Jane

    Restaurant Week is awful. The quality of the food suffers considerably; things sit out under heat lamps for God knows how long and the service is consistently terrible because everyone's overworked. The most irritating part is the flood of reviews that follow on OpenTable/Yelp/etc, with people bitching that their $35 dinner at Vidalia wasn't the best thing they ever tasted. The crowds make it pretty unpleasant, too. Going out should be something special. Why would you pay $35 for something you know is going to be mediocre at best?

    Put me in your latter paragraph. I'm going to Fiola and Equinox this week, neither of which are participating. Can't wait!

  • Katie

    I find that if you avoid the super expensive restaurants such as Vidalia, where you will inevitably have a terrible experience because the kitchen staff is overworked and the servers are making a lot less in tips, Restaurant Week can be awesome. The second-tier restaurants have more motivation to impress the clientele, since those customers could reasonably afford to come back at least once in a while.

  • Amelia

    With the advent of daily deal sites, I have a hard time getting excited about Restaurant Week. I won't be participating this year. What I will be doing is continuing to purchase Groupons and LivingSocial deals to those restaurants I'm interested in that would normally be out of my price range.

  • yup

    I stopped RW after 1) they raised the dinner price and 2) had a *horrible* experience at Vidalia. They hate RW, I hate RW, maybe if we ignore 'em they'll simply Go Away.

  • Emily

    I completely agree with Amelia. Since I have been purchasing 1/2 price gift certificates, it ends up being a better deal to use them. Instead of getting a limited menu, you can order whatever you want and RW typically ends up with angry staff members and complete overcrowded restaurants.

  • geoff

    Yep, Its a total waste of time. Limited menu is disappointing, food is sub-par and I think the wait staff resents you showing up.

    Twenty dollars a plate isnt a deal that convinces me to take a chance on somewhere new. Sounds like an everyday price actually.

    For that kind of money, Ill go the places I already know and enjoy.

  • Ward7Diva

    @Amelia: I with you on that! I am Groupon, Living Social, So What's the Deal, Buy Me and Half Off with Fox5 type of girl. At least I can get a good deal and meal at the same time.

    I use to love RW but know it is a big joke!

  • Martin

    New to DC, but have had similiar bad experiences with RW in Seattle and San Diego. It is my wife's birthday this week and we are foodies, thus, we always do a special meal on B-days. Any tips on best resturant that is not doing RW? Thus far, Dino is all I found.

  • Shannon

    I have given up on RW. I used to look forward to this time of year to try out new restaurants for a "good price" but I quickly discovered that it was not a good value. I am not one for appetizers and desserts so those usually dont factor into the price of my meal to begin with. A lot of restaurants have been adding up charges to almost all entrees. Seems like cheating to me.

  • L. Denise

    I've never had an issue with Restaurant Week. I look forward to it every season. Glad more areas have joined in.

  • LR

    Martin: Dino is doing RW! Best restaurant that's not..Blue Duck Tavern?

  • LocalStops

    Hate it! Limited menus and whiny crowds of cheapskates? No thank you.

  • sleonard

    A friend and I had dinner plans on a date that just happened to fall during RW. I ordered from the regular menu and the food was very, very good. My friend ordered from the RW menu and there were problems with each of his courses. This from one of the better restaurants in DC. Have either of us been back? That would be a 'no.'

  • Elina Teplinsky

    Who needs Restaurant Week anymore? It's Restaurant Week every week with Groupon and Living Social deals and you're not constrained as to the food choices!

  • GoonieGooGoo

    Knowing many who work in the restaurant industry....I can say that Restaurant Week is probably the worst week to dine out.

    Sure you may save a little ..if any really you deal with overcrowded restaurants filled with cheap people who aren't really foodies who appreciate restaurant during non-restaurant weeks regularly. Not to mention you will probably receive servers who are overworked because restaurant week patrons don't tip at all and don't know proper dining etiquette most of the time.

  • co

    @Martin: Some ideas - Central, Marcel's, Proof, Estadio, Obelisk, Eola, Makoto, Cashion's Eat Place, or Brasserie Beck.

    The best restaurants not participating probably won't have reservations available (i.e. Restaurant Eve, The Inn at Little Washington, Komi, CityZen, The Source, Volt, Citronelle).

  • Ari

    Agree with the sentiment here. I used to get excited about it, until several years of disappointments. What I don't get is why restaurants that aren't going to try to impress do it at all. It's so disappointing when you go to a restaurant, and they give you a begrudging choice of 3 stale entrees, which then come out arranged like TV dinners off the assembly line. No one's forcing you to do this, so why participate at all? It ends up making me even less likely to ever come back, and I feel like I just wasted even my "budget" $35.11.

    TenPenh used to do a great restaurant week - almost the whole menu was available, and they seemed like they appreciated your business. Too bad they're gone now.

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  • Jenny

    I'm surprised to see all these people dumping on Vidalia. I went there last night for the start of RW and had perfect service and flat-out delicious food. Chicken-fried quail, lemon chess pie, mmmm.

  • chefbonk

    I absolutely care. I've been an executive chef for about one year now, although I've been part of 14 restaurant weeks since I've worked in DC. For me, this is one of the most important weeks of the year. My restaurant offers almost it's entire menu with no up-charges and I personally have my hand in every item that comes out of the kitchen. For me, it's an opportunity to expose people to what we do. Yes my food cost is higher during restaurant week, but I want to give people an experience that they will talk about. Hopefully. It's shouldn't be about making money it should be about showcasing what you do best.

  • Katie

    There are actually quite a few restaurants participating in RW that make available almost their entire menu ... I ususually seek out these restaurants during RW. Yesterday, I enjoyed a lovely lunch at Potenza, which made its entire menu available (except for dessert, which it limited to two selections). The food and service were fantastic and I will definitely go back outside of RW.