Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Restaurant Week Wrap Up

March 27th marked the end of 2009's Winter Restaurant Week. Over the course of the past two weeks, this Bostonist visited several restaurants to take advantage of the occasion. A few of them delivered everything that Restaurant Week promises: a great value and delicious food. Unfortunately, several others were more than a bit disappointing. In a year with such a rough economy, you would expect that Restaurant Week would be a time for local eateries to go all out, giving customers a good reason to remember them once the great deals have ended. Instead, several places that we visited offered slow, mediocre service and dull, uninspired menus.

For those of you who may be uninitiated in the ways of Restaurant Week, here's how it works. Restaurants around the city agree to join in the week and offer a special deal, providing pre-fix three course meals: just $33.09 per person for dinner and $20.09 for lunch (get it, because it's 2009!).

A great strategy for picking the best restaurant week deals is to compare what a dinner or lunch at a restaurant would normally cost you and then compare it to the Restaurant Week price. If you are coming out at least ten dollars ahead, than go ahead and book yourself a table. These great deals often allow new customers to try cuisine they couldn’t normally afford, and usually it turns out well for restaurant and diner. This year, sadly, too many restaurants did not bring their A game to the table(s), leaving us a little disappointed.

At Marliave, a recently renovated restaurant in Downtown Crossing, our dinner took over three hours from start to finish. Sometimes that's a good thing, but in this case most of that time was spent with nothing more than water glasses gracing our table. Even given ample time to prepare, the restaurant still managed to mix up our appetizer order. Following that unfortunate experience, another well-established Boston restaurant—we, uh, "won’t tell" which one—brought out a calculator at the end of the meal to scold us on our tip giving skills. Needless to say, we won’t be returning to that place anytime soon, if ever. Restaurant Week is a time to show off and attract new customers, not slack off (or mouth off) and drive them away.

Fortunately, there were many other restaurants that did a great job of creating coherent, well-thought-out menus for their restaurant week guests. Clink at the Liberty Hotel in Cambridge and Radius in the Financial District are two great examples of Restaurant Week standouts. These thoughtful establishments will be seeing this Bostonist again soon, despite their high regular prices.

Overall, this Winter’s Restaurant Week offered a great variety. More than 200 restaurants were participated in the deals that spanned from March 15th through the 27th. Many restaurants even overlooked their usual practices and opened up Saturday nights to Restaurant Week guests. Several places also offered the newly introduced light lunch—two courses for fifteen dollars—in an attempt to entice workers out of their cubicles. While this Winter’s Restaurant Week was surely a success (online reservations were impossible to get for many places even three weeks in advance), some Boston restaurants need to learn that, in this economy, a bad first impression leads to lost customers. Reputation alone is no longer enough to pay the bills.

originally posted on the Bostonist

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