The post-holiday winter season is always the slowest restaurant time of year. Many cities respond with winter "Restaurant Weeks," when deep discounts for prix-fixe meals are offered by dozens of great restaurants. New York City began the idea 20 years ago, but other cities have followed. Lunches start in the $20 range for three courses and dinners for under $40, excluding taxes, beverages and tips. Winter Restaurant Weeks take place in many cities during February and March with more details on city web sites. Search online for "2011 Restaurant Weeks" to find more cities.
New York City: Jan. 24-28 and Jan. 31-Feb. 4
Los Angeles: Jan 24-28 and Jan. 31-Feb. 4
Chicago: Feb. 18-27
Twin Cities (MN) Restaurant Week: Feb. 20-25
Denver: Feb. 26 – March 11
Boston: March 6-11 and 13-18
Here are some tips on how to get the most enjoyment out of a restaurant week dining opportunity, or even when dining when the promotional weeks are over:
- When planning to dine in an unfamiliar city, ask a local resident or someone who visits often for a best recommendation based on your food and location preferences.
- A hotel's recommendation for a restaurant may not always be objective. Local businesses may have arrangements to steer customers.
- Visit a restaurant to see the room and menu before booking when possible. Ask if you can reserve a table in a room area you prefer. If the host is unfriendly, move on.
- Check Restaurant Week menus posted on a city's restaurant web sites. Be sure the dishes offered appeal to you as restaurant week menu choices are limited.
- Restaurant deals are normally good on weeknights and Sunday nights, but exclude Sunday lunches or anytime on Saturdays.
- For best service book a late lunch, such as 2 p.m., or a late dinner, not before 7:30. To eat a speedier meal book for noon or a pre-theater dinner and expect not to linger.
- Give the reservation person a phone number to confirm your table. It is advisable to call a popular restaurant to confirm your time on the day of your reservation.
- Always call the restaurant to cancel as soon as you know you can't keep a reservation. Release the table for someone else so the restaurant can fill your time slot.
- If you plan to book dinner along with a show, consider a matinee performance before dinner. Pre-theater dinners can be rushed, less enjoyable, and make you sleepy.
- If you love a dish be sure to ask your server to describe ingredients and use a small notepad. When you are seen appreciating food details, you may get extra pampering.
- Ask to meet the chef, even a famous one, after an extraordinary meal. Chefs, when on premises, will often visit appreciative guests near the close of dining hours.
- Unless the meal and / or service were very disappointing, tip more than the traditional 15% of your tab, excluding taxes. Today 18% to 20% is the norm for fine dining.
- Be adventurous when ordering. A Restaurant Week deal is your chance to try new, exciting dishes without busting your budget. Get the restaurant's card for next time.