I have a particular fondness for Restaurant Week, as it was my baby when I was president of the Miami Valley Restaurant Association in 2005. When we started it, it was a struggle to get restaurants to sign on. The 3 course meal deal was offered by $20.05, to reflect the year.
The first year I think we had about a dozen restaurants when we kicked off the promotion and we got up to 29 by the actual week of the promotion. We asked the eateries to donate $1 of each meal to charity, a component that is not a part of most restaurant weeks around the country, but I really believed that this would help the public embrace this promotion.
Our first charity partner was The Food Bank with our slogan being “when you eat, they eat.” We strategically picked January, as that is one of the slowest months for restaurants and even though the restaurants signed up, many of them were skeptical about the event. But the residents of the Miami Valley embraced the promo right away. And then the restaurateurs started to believe, “I have never seen anything like it,” said Josef Reif, owner of l’Auberge, in Kettering. The phone started ringing last Friday and by noon Saturday all spaces in both dining rooms were reserved for the entire week.” Then restaurant critic for the Dayton Daily News Ann Heller interviewed local owners and one Oregon District eatery said business tripled overnight.
Now a dozen years later, the promotion is still going strong and while the price goes up a penny each year, a 3 course meal for $20.17 is still a great deal. It originally ran just Sun – Friday, but now Restaurant Week runs Sunday – Sunday, Jan 22- 29th, giving you even more chances to dine out. The program has changed a little as well, with restaurants now having the option to offer meals for $25.17, $30.17 and $35.17 as well and places like Park City Club and Roost offer options at all price points. Other eateries offer deals for 2 like Chappy’s Tap Room & Grille 2 dine for $35.17 offer or Kabuki’s sushi dinner for 2 for $35.17. Some restaurants offer 4 courses like Wheat Penny and The Melting Pot. Many more will pair beer and wine specials at discounted prices.
I tend to use restaurant week to visit newer restaurants and this year that includes Caramella’s Italian Kitchen, Ellie’s Restaurant and Bakery at Mills Park Hotel, Smiths Boathouse, Wandering Griffin and Zink’s Prime Meats and Fine Wines
You can view all the menus here.
The other thing to be aware of is that many of the restaurants participating are not open every day of restaurant week. Be aware of the restaurant’s hours, some open days that aren’t usually open and some are closed on Sunday & Monday.
1. Reserve Early
Popular Restaurant Week choices will be booked up quickly, so the sooner you get on the phone to make your reservations, the better. Reservations for dinner early in the week (Monday – Wednesday) tend to be easier to get than Friday and Saturday. Some of the more casual restaurants don’t take reservations, so arriving before or after the dinner rush will minimize your wait.
2. Manage Your Expectations
It is Restaurant Week and most restaurants offer fairly limited choices on the Restaurant Week menu, so if you’re a very picky eater, it might not be the best option for you. Menu’s are predetermined for price, volume and ease of service, so don’t be surprised if substitutions aren’t possible. Frequently, the Restaurant Week menu won’t include a restaurant’s “signature” dishes, but you can often order them a la carte if you’d really like to give them a try. Some menu’s may actually differ from what’s listed here, due to product availability.
3. Understand the Price
The $20.17 – 35.17 prix-fixe meal doesn’t include beverages, tip or tax. Beverages can add up quickly, so if you’re concerned about your budget, ask about prices before you order. On the other hand, since your meal is discounted, this might be the best time to splurge on a bottle of wine. Many restaurants offer multiple price points options, so you can decide how much to spend.
4. Vegetarians Beware
Some of the menu’s don’t offer a lot of options for you, but you’re probably not surprised by that. On the other hand places like Christopher’s and Meadowlark always offer creative and tasty options.
5. Tip Your Server Well
Just because you’re getting a discount on your dinner doesn’t mean that the waiter or waitress is getting a break on their rent this month, so tip generously if you get good service. And as a former waitress, let me remind you 20% is the baseline for good service these days.
And don’t worry if you can’t get to all the participating places, there’s always Summer Restaurant Week July 23 – 30th.